RENAMO on electoral reform: all or nothing

The dialogue between the Mozambican government and the former rebel movement Renamo has never advanced beyond the first point on the agenda which Renamo proposed, namely amendments to the electoral legislation approved by the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic in December 2012.

By now, it is widely known that Renamo demanded “parity” with the ruling Frelimo Party on the National Elections Commission (CNE). Those who think, quite correctly, that the CNE does a very poor job of managing Mozambican elections, are sympathetic to Renamo’s demands – although they would mean an ever more deeply polarized CNE, even less likely to perform efficiently.

But this was only one of 24 points that Renamo raised in its document on the electoral legislation submitted to the dialogue table on 20 May, and a copy of which is in AIM’s possession. The government immediately accepted most of the Renamo proposals.

Thus Renamo started with general principles, such as freedom of the press and of access to the mass media, and freedom of association, expression and political propaganda. These freedoms are all guaranteed under the Mozambican constitution, and the government had no problem in agreeing that they should be included in the electoral legislation as well.

Renamo insisted that candidates for municipal and provincial elections should not be required to produce a certificate of residence to prove that they live in the municipality or province where they are standing. It is extraordinary that the head of the Renamo delegation to the talks, Saimone Macuiana, inserted this in the 20 May proposals.

For, as a senior parliamentarian, Macuiana must have known that the laws had already been amended to remove the requirement for a residence certificate. The demand was thus redundant, and it cost the government nothing to agree.

As for the CNE, Renamo wanted political parties to have the right to send representatives to attend CNE meetings. This would have been an extremely useful check, and would have ended the culture of secrecy shrouding CNE decisions. And the government simply commented “We agree”.

Similar the government had no problem with a Renamo demand that the CNE should only be able to write regulations in terms of the powers granted to it by law, and that it should be prevented from demanding any requirements or documents other than those stipulated in the election law.

The government did not accept Renamo’s call for “consensus between Renamo and Frelimo” in appointing the General Director of the CNE’s executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) and his deputy. Instead it suggested that each parliamentary party – Frelimo, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) – should appoint a permanent observer to STAE. Once again, this would have ended secrecy: STAE would have been unable to take decisions without the political parties knowing.

The government accepted Renamo’s demand that voter registration posts should be “institutionalized and fixed” and that the voter card issued by the brigades should serve as full proof of residence (points which were already in the law).

On the election campaign, Renamo wanted to “ban commercial advertising in order to safeguard the principles of equality between the competing parties which should only use the broadcasting time” distributed by the CNE. The government replied that it agreed in part and thought it necessary “to regulate electoral propaganda in order to guarantee effective equality of treatment”.

Renamo called for the distribution of the complete electoral register to all competing parties 50 days before the elections. The government agreed – provided the copies were in digital format, rather than hard copies. The parties could then print out whatever they wanted at their own expense.

Renamo wanted the polling station monitors accredited by the political parties themselves. This the government did not accept, and reiterated what is essentially the current situation – namely that the parties should send lists of their monitors to the electoral bodies which would then grant them credentials.

But the government agreed with the Renamo proposal for full immunity for the monitors: under this proposal no monitor could be arrested. This would have made a major difference in the 20 November municipal elections – one of the main protests of the MDM was that large numbers of its monitors were arbitrarily detained.

Renamo proposed that the monitors should be positioned “at the table” (where the polling station staff sit) in order “to better exercise their rights”. The government said it agreed in part, but reworded it to read that the monitors “should occupy the positions closest to the table”.

On the ballot papers, Renamo insisted there should be no more ballot papers than the number of voters at each station “to avoid illicit use of surplus ballot papers”. Again, the government said it was in “partial agreement”, but wanted a ten per cent reserve of ballot papers to deal with cases where voters accidentally spoil their ballot papers and request new ones.

Renamo called for representatives of the competing candidates to attend all stages of the count at the polling stations. This has been the case with every election since 1994, and so the government had no difficulty in accepting it.

Completely new, however, was Renamo’s call for a provision that would allow recounts. There had never been recounts in previous elections. Again the government accepted – with the proviso that the recounts must take place at the polling stations.

Renamo wanted election disputes to be handled, not by the CNE, but by electoral courts. The government agreed, and proposed that the existing law courts should function as electoral courts from the start of the election campaign until the proclamation of the results.

In all, the government accepted 16 Renamo proposals in full, and six in part. Only two were rejected. Most people would regard that as a victory – but not Renamo. Without “parity” on the CNE, it would not accept anything the government said.

Macuiana did not reply to the government’s position until 22 July. Three of the four pages of his letter of that date concerned “parity” on the CNE and on STAE. The Renamo proposal defeated in December was that the CNE should consist of 14 members – four appointed by Frelimo, four by Renamo, four by the MDM, and two by extra-parliamentary opposition parties.

The Frelimo/MDM position which won the vote was for 13 members – eight from political parties, in proportion to seats held in the Assembly (five from Frelimo, two from Renamo and one from the MDM), three from civil society bodies, a judge proposed by the Higher Council of the Judicial Magistracy, and an attorney proposed by the Higher Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The Macuiana letter of 22 July did not so much as mention the MDM, and completely dismissed civil society with the claim that “political parties express political pluralism, contribute to forming the popular will though elections, and are the fundamental instrument for the democratic participation of citizens in the governance of the country”.

It was political parties which should “direct and supervise elections through the CNE and STAE”. Elections, he claimed “belong to” political parties and are” their instrument for attaining power”. In this vision political parties are superior to the voters themselves.

Neither the Frelimo/MDM proposal, nor the Renamo one, envisaged a truly independent CNE. The reason was very clear – twice, in 2006 and in March 2012, Frelimo, during negotiations in the Assembly, had proposed a CNE with no political party representatives, consisting entirely of civil society appointees. On both occasions Renamo flatly rejected the proposal. The CNE is thus a politicised body because Renamo wanted it that way.

Renamo could have proposed those points the government accepted as amendments to the electoral laws, and the Frelimo parliamentary group would almost certainly have accepted them. Indeed, Frelimo was optimistic that Renamo would present amendments during the extraordinary parliamentary sitting held in early August.

But without parity on the CNE, Renamo refused to present any proposal at all. So the extraordinary sitting came and went, and nothing at all was changed in the electoral legislation.

Renamo thus lost the opportunity to introduce recounts, electoral courts, full immunity for polling station monitors, places for political party observers at CNE meetings, and permanent party observers at STAE.

All of this would have made a material difference to the CNE’s shoddy conduct of the November municipal elections. In going for all or nothing, Renamo predictably ended up with nothing, and Mozambican democracy was the loser.

Post published in: Africa News

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