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President Jimmy Carter: Mozambique Election Trip Report, Nov. 28 - Dec. 4, 2004

By Jimmy Carter

Our purpose in going to Mozambique was to observe the election for president and parliamentary members on December 1 and 2. The Carter Center has been involved in the country for about eight years to monitor previous elections, to assist with long range planning, and to conduct a Global 2000 agriculture program involving maize and rice.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries we have ever visited, with more than two-thirds of its 19 million people living on less than $1 a day. Some of the Maputo slums are indescribably distressed and filthy, often with tiny shacks built on enormous piles of garbage. At the same time, the main streets and open spaces are remarkably free of trash. The city shows its communist heritage on almost every street, named for Fidel Castro, Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah, and other leftist leaders and dates of notable revolutionary victories. One of our voting sites was at the intersection of Ho Chi Min and Lenin Avenues.

Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975, after an 11-year revolutionary war under the Frelimo banner, and became a communist regime aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Beginning in 1980, a guerilla army known as Renamo, supported by the apartheid regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa, initiated a vicious war that almost completely destroyed the country. Finally, in 1990, communism was officially rejected and a form of western democracy was espoused, and in 1992 a truce was negotiated by European nations. A democratic government has evolved, always headed by Frelimo leaders.

Note: Disgust with war and an intense desire for peace are evident. During a break between observing election sites, we visited the national art museum, and the many paintings vividly expressed the warlike heritage of the nation. The artists unanimously expressed violence, torture, suffering, and conflict, and there was not even one human face that showed sentiments of pleasure or even complaisance.

Although Mozambique has made notable progress from a country long at war to a struggling democracy with a multiparty political system, there have been serious concerns about the basic fairness of the electoral system, with strong domination by Joaquim Chissano, who has served as president and leader of Frelimo for a period of 18 years. However, he has decided not to seek another five-year term, and a wealthy businessman, Armando Guebuza, is Frelimo's candidate. His major opponent is former guerilla leader Alfonso Dhlakama, the only candidate who has represented the Renamo party in previous elections.

In addition to the two leading candidates, Raul Domingos (PPD party), recently expelled from Renamo, campaigned vigorously and hoped to exceed the minimal threshold of 5 percent voter support, which would assure his party representation in the parliament.

Our judgment after monitoring the 1999 elections was equivocal, in that we were denied full access to the final tabulation process, during which more than 500,000 cast ballots were questioned by the National Election Commission (CNE) and invalidated. We were not permitted to confirm the reasons for this arbitrary action.

The Supreme Court finally rejected all of Renamo's vehement objections, and Chissano was reelected by a narrow margin.

For the current election, The Carter Center was joined by delegations from the European Union, the Commonwealth, SADC (a team representing nations in southern Africa), and a substantial number of domestic observers. Once again, the CNE rejected our requests to grant adequate access to international observers during the final tabulation phase of the election. Unless changed, this ruling would prevent our certifying the results as representing the will of the electorate.

Former Benin president, Nicéphore Soglo, joined me as co-chairman. Our observer team, headed by David Pottie, has had long-term members in Mozambique for several months, and we fielded 60 short-term monitors in groups of two. They were dispersed into all 10 provinces and the capital area two days before the first of the two election days.

After John Hardman, Rosalynn, and I arrived in Maputo on November 28, we met with President Chissano, the three leading candidates, members of the CNE, other international and domestic observers, members of the diplomatic corps stationed in the country, and the Constitutional Court. This court, recently formed, has six members chosen by the legislature with a president appointed by Chissano, and has ultimate authority in deciding electoral issues. This may be a positive step in providing more objective dispute resolution.

Rosalynn and I personally inspected 125 voting places and found the process orderly, well supplied with all necessary materials, and the officials dedicated and well trained. There were few problems of any kind that would interfere with the integrity of the election, and multiple party observers were present at all sites. Our other teams had similar reports. Overnight between the two voting days the officials, party observers, and police guarded the sealed ballot boxes closely. Very few people voted during the second day, and it is obvious that one day would have been sufficient.

The counting of ballots was also conducted in an extremely meticulous manner, and it seemed a shame to realize that the final tabulations and discarding of ballots might be done secretly and without monitoring by either international or domestic observers. We helped to train a group of citizen observers who would witness the actual vote counts at representative voting sites, and their quick reports should provide us with a fairly good indication of the actual returns. Similar parallel vote tabulations (PVT) have proven to be remarkably accurate in previous elections.

After months of apparently fruitless debate, I met with CNE leaders Friday afternoon and told them that none of the international observers could certify the election to be honest and fair. They finally agreed to meet our requests for access to their computerized tabulation process, but still postponed a decision about our subsequent examination of invalidated ballots and tally sheets. If they are finally forthcoming, this should make it possible for us to assess the fairness and accuracy of the entire election process. We shared this decision with other observer leaders and the news media.

All our teams returned to Maputo on December 3 and 4 and reported from a total of 991 voting sites that, with few exceptions, the election was conducted properly. Obviously, however, the national police and the entire process were strongly dominated by the ruling party.

I had a final press conference before departing Maputo on December 4, summarizing our observations. I did not announce the PVT results, although a preliminary count indicates that Frelimo is headed for victory. A clear margin of victory that will exceed any procedural biases or counting errors is what neutral observers always desire. Our long-term observers will remain in Mozambique until the final official results of the elections are confirmed. As always, we will issue a comprehensive analysis of the entire process, probably including recommendations for further improvement.

This was the 53rd potentially troublesome election monitored by The Carter Center and, overall, we were pleased with this demonstration of democracy and peace.

Read about the Carter Center's role in the 2004 Mozamabique elections.

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