Election preview – Mozambique

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Mozambique is due to hold presidential, provincial and legislative elections on Tuesday, two months after the country’s two largest parties signed a peace deal ending decades of violence.

The governing Frelimo party is expected to maintain its near 45-year hold on power. A smaller party – the Mozambique Democratic Movement – could attract voters from both Frelimo and the main opposition Renamo in some areas.

Some key issues in one of the world’s least-developed nations as it heads to the polls are.

GAS PROJECTS

Mozambique is set to become a top global gas exporter thanks to projects led by Total and Exxon Mobil Corp in its extreme north, home to one of the biggest offshore gas finds in a decade.

With investments expected to total about $50 billion – more than four times Mozambique’s current GDP – the projects have the potential to lift millions out of poverty.

A promise to develop the reserves formed a major part of President Filipe Nyusi’s campaign.

Many question whether ordinary citizens will benefit in a country with a history of corruption and weak institutions. Grinding poverty in Cabo Delgado helped fuel a nascent Islamist insurgency complicating efforts to tap the gas.

ISLAMIST INSURGENCY

Hundreds have been killed in attacks on villages in the gas-rich region, a Frelimo stronghold. People have been beheaded and houses torched and thousands fled.

Relatively little is known about the militants. At the forefront of the insurgency is thought to be a group that, similar to Boko Haram in Nigeria, touts a radical form of Islam as an antidote to what it regards as a corrupt, elitist rule.

Attacks increased in the run-up to the vote, making campaigning impossible in some districts, said Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado.

Government responded by stepping up security but its reputation has taken a hit among voters.

PEACE DEAL

Frelimo governed Mozambique since independence in 1975.

It fought a 16-year civil war against former guerrilla movement Renamo that killed around a million before a truce ended the worst of the bloodshed in 1992. Violence flared since particularly around election time.

Leaders of both parties are eager to win over a populace fatigued by seemingly endless rounds of hostilities and peace negotiations.

A breakaway faction of Renamo fighters that disputes some aspects of the accord has staged attacks in the group’s traditional central strongholds, demanding party leader Ossufo Momade resign and the election be postponed.

DEBT SCANDAL
Mozambique is battling to recover from a debt crisis after it revealed more than $1 billion in previously undisclosed lending to state-run firms in 2016.

The discovery of the loans, all guaranteed by government, prompted the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and a sovereign debt default.

The money was ostensibly raised to develop shipyards, maritime security and a tuna fishing venture, but US authorities say the project was a front for money-laundering.

Senior Frelimo politicians and associates, including a former finance minister and the ex-president’s son and advisor, have been charged for alleged involvement, tarnishing the party’s image.

Nyusi, running for a second term, was defence minister at the time of the looting. He denied wrongdoing and touted the arrests as a sign of government’s commitment to cleaning up corruption.

POWERFUL CYCLONES

Two devastating storms slammed into Mozambique in less than two months this year, killing hundreds and wreaking destruction across the central and northern regions.

Cyclone Idai flattened port city Beira in March before moving inland and causing deadly floods. The central provinces impacted are historically part of Renamo’s support base.

Six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth battered coastal provinces in the extreme, pro-Frelimo north.

Researchers say the storms left poor Mozambicans without voter cards or identity documents they need to cast ballots.



Opposition parties accuse government of not doing enough to assist affected people, while parliament set up a commission to investigate claims emergency aid was diverted for party political purposes. Frelimo denied the allegations.