Mozambique begins reclassifying invalid votes

Mozambique’s National Elections Commission (CNE) on Tuesday began “reclassifying” the votes declared as invalid at the polling stations in last Wednesday’s municipal elections.

Polling station staff tend to be strict in their interpretation of the guidelines, often rejecting votes as invalid simply because the voters have made a slight mistake in placing their mark, or have used a mark other than a cross or a fingerprint in the box beside the name of their favoured candidate or party.

The CNE’s “reclassification” is intended to rescue votes where, in the CNE’s view, the voter has expressed a clear preference.

As from Tuesday afternoon, teams from the CNE, with support staff from the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), began sifting through the thousands of supposedly invalid votes.

They began with the southern province of Inhambane. This is a stronghold of the ruling Frelimo Party, and in all five municipalities in the province the Frelimo candidates for mayor have such large majorities that reclassifying the invalid votes will make no difference to the result.

However, in the election of members to the municipal assemblies, the reclassification of even a few invalid votes could make a difference in the allocation of assembly seats between Frelimo and its main rival, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).

The vast majority of votes that AIM saw in the reclassification room were truly invalid. These were ballot papers, for example, where crosses had been placed, clearly by the same hand, against the names of both candidates, of where a mark or a fingerprint smudge had been made in the space at the bottom or top of the ballot paper, but too far away from the names of the candidates to make a plausible claim that it was intended for either of them.

Both Frelimo and the MDM were penalized by the strict rule that no words must be written on the ballot paper. Thus voters who wrote their names or initials against their preferred candidates were doing them no favours, and these votes were automatically regarded as invalid.

AIM saw one ballot paper in which the voter had firmly written “Nao” (no) against the Frelimo candidate’s name, and “Sim” (yes) against the MDM name. Although there can hardly be any doubt that this voter wanted to vote for the MDM, he or she fell foul of the “no words” rule, and the vote was deemed invalid.

There were cases where a cross was put against one name and a fingerprint against the other, but this did not seem to favour one or the other candidate in particular. In the votes AIM observed (from the Quisssico and Vilankulo municipalities), there was no sign of the deliberate invalidation of opposition votes by adding a fingerprint elsewhere on the ballot papers. In previous elections when this has happened, it has usually been unmistakable.

The reclassification finished first in Inhambane city. In the mayoral election there, 742 votes were declared invalid. The CNE rescued 95 of them – 75 for Frelimo candidate Benedito Guimino, and 20 for MDM candidate Fernando Nhaca. This left 647 genuinely invalid votes.

As for the municipal assembly election, of the 671 invalid votes, 60 were recovered for Frelimo and 16 for the MDM, leaving 595 definitively invalid votes.

The CNE intends to reclassify the invalid votes from Gaza and Cabo Delgado provinces on Tuesday evening, and deal with the rest of the provinces on Wednesday. The CNE wants to finish this task as quickly as possible, in order to speed up the announcement of the definitive election results.

The reclassification session at which AIM was present was observed by two journalists and three observers. Neither Frelimo nor the MDM seemed interested in protecting their votes since no monitors from either party were present.

Post published in: Africa News

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