Mozambican constitutional council annuls Gurue elections

The Constitutional Council, Mozambique’s highest body in matters of constitutional and electoral law, on Thursday annulled the elections for mayor and municipal assembly held on 20 November in the town of Gurue, in the central province of Zambezia.

The initial results for the Gurue mayoral election, announced by the Gurue district elections commission on 22 November, two days after the close of polls, gave victory to the candidate of the ruling Frelimo party, Janhanguir Jussub, by the narrow margin of 26 votes.

The district commission announcement claimed that Jussub had won 6,695 votes to 6,669 for the candidate of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), Orlando Antonio.

But the MDM had its own copies of the same results sheets, and when they are added together they showed a victory for Antonio by 6,679 votes (50.2 per cent) to 6,626 votes for Jussub (49.8 per cent).

To complicate matters, when the National Elections Commission (CNE) announced the results in all the municipalities, it changed the figures for Gurue without explanation. The CNE gave Jussub 6,735 votes and Antonio 6,629. So, out of thin air, Jussub’s total rose by 40 votes – exactly the same amount by which Antonio’s result shrank.

There was a useful, independent check – observers from EISA (Electoral Institute of Southern Africa) did a complete parallel count for Gurue, checking the numbers on all the polling station results sheets. The parallel count is almost identical to the MDM count – it says that Antonio won by 6,678 votes to 6,626 for Jussub.

When the CNE reclassified votes declared invalid at the polling stations it found that 31 had expressed a preference for Jussub and seven for Antonio, giving a final result of 6,766 for Jussub and 6,636 for Antonio.

The MDM accepted defeat in the assembly election (won, according to the CNE, by Frelimo with 6,722 votes to 6,333 for the MDM), but appealed against the result of the mayoral election all the way up to the Constitutional Council.

In a ruling published on Wednesday, the Council rejected the MDM’s appeal, on what are essentially procedural grounds – any appeal to the Council must be against a decision by the CNE, and the CNE document cited by the MDM was the announcement, on 4 December, of all the election results, and said nothing specific about the MDM’s complaints over the Gurue count. To have stood any chance of success, the MDM appeal should have been against the CNE’s peremptory rejection of its complaint on 28 November.

But all was not lost. The MDM appeal inspired the Constitutional Council to take a closer look at all the Gurue documentation held by the CNE, and it found a long list of irregularities. The minutes of four of the 49 polling stations had not been signed. One polling station had results sheets (“editais”), drawn up, not by polling station staff, but by the Zambezia Provincial Elations Commission. These sheets were not signed by any member of the polling station staff, and contained data that conflicted with what was written in the polling station minutes.

A further 12 sets of polling station minutes were signed by the station chairperson but lacked the official stamp used to prove authenticity. In two polling stations there were erasures on the editais, with no explanation. In eight editais, the number of blank ballots had been changed, supposedly on the authorisation of the Provincial Elections Commission – but there was no record of the Commission taking any such decision.

At polling station 04038701, the staff had written the result as:

1. MDM – 206

2. Frelimo – 166

Apart from the mistake that the candidates’ names should have been mentioned, and not just their parties, this sheet defied the basic rule that the results must be given in the same order that the candidates’ names appeared on the ballot paper. Frelimo was in first place on the ballot paper and the MDM in second position.

So were the 206 votes really meant for Frelimo, which should have been in first place? There was no way to tell. The district commission gave those votes to Frelimo, but the MDM naturally claimed them for itself.

So the Constitutional Council opted for a recount of the votes at this and two other polling stations. All valid votes are supposed to be placed in a sealed bag and kept by the district commission until the results have been definitively proclaimed.

But when the Council asked the CNE for those sealed bags, the reply was that they could not be found. The CNE’s explanation was that they might have been stolen during the disturbances that occurred in some of the polling stations. An obvious alternative explanation, not considered by the CNE, was that somebody might have been busy destroying evidence.

After these alarming findings, which only concerned the mayoral election, the Council decided it ought to take a look at the CNE’s documentation for the Gurue municipal assembly election. Some of the same problems were found – polling station minutes without signatures, or without stamps, illicit erasures on editais, and changes made to the total number of blank ballots allegedly authorised by the Provincial Commission.

There were annotations on the backs of these editais saying that the changes were made to correct mathematical mistakes. “This is manifestly illegal”, the Council said, “since the drawing up of minutes and results sheets is exclusively the task of the polling station staff”.

It was indeed the case that, on these sheets, the number of valid votes, blank ballots and invalid votes did not add up to the number of people who had cast votes. So what had happened to the missing votes?, the Council mused. The Provincial Commission had just decided they were blank ballots. But perhaps they were valid votes, which had somehow been discarded – “and the problem remains of knowing who they were cast for”.

The number of additional blank ballots added to the total, just to make the maths right, is small, but in such a closely contested election just a handful of votes can sway the result.

The Constitutional Council concluded that the irregularities “seriously damage the credibility of the results sheets and the minutes”. It believed that the irregularities had “decisively influenced the election results”.

It therefore annulled the elections, but did not propose any date for a rerun. That decision must be taken by the government, on the proposal of the CNE.

CNE spokesperson Joao Beirao told AIM there is no precedent for this. When a serious irregularity is discovered on polling day itself, the law is clear – the election is rerun on the second Sunday after the original election date. But the law has no provision for rerunning an election annulled over two months after polling day.

Furthermore, on 30 January a new voter registration exercise begins, covering the entire country. So will newly registered voters in Gurue (for instance, those who have just moved into the town, or those who have just attained the voting age of 18) be entitled to vote in fresh municipal elections? Or will the right to vote be restricted to those whose names are already on the voters’ roll?

One thing is certain – new polling station staff must be recruited. The general director of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the executive arm of the CNE, Felisberto Naife, told AIM that nobody who had worked on the elections in November would be recruited for the re-run.

MDM national election agent, Jose Manuel de Sousa, told reporters the Council should just have accepted the MDM’s copies of the editais which show that the MDM candidate won. But the Council’s ruling is, in fact, rather useful for the MDM, since it allows it to have another shot at taking full control of Gurue, with both mayor and a majority in the municipal assembly.

Post published in: Africa News
  1. Bingo wokwa Gutu

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