Votes have been cast this week in Mozambique's general election. These are the fourth presidential and legislative elections since the general peace agreement between former adversaries Renamo and Frelimo - and now the two largest parties in the country. With a history of peaceful and largely uncontested elections, the country is considered a beacon of success in Africa.
Frelimo will most certainly win these elections by a large margin. The ruling party since 1994 has a formidable party machinery which is more organised and has more resources available than any other party in Mozambique. It has also increased its membership base countrywide and has run an extensive and expensive nationwide campaign. An absolute majority in Parliament for Frelimo is certainly not out of reach and a second term for President Armando Guebuza certain. With a Frelimo landslide victory seemingly unstoppable, these elections are really about how (badly) the opposition parties fare.
Renamo, as the main opposition party as well as Renamo leader Dhlakama's position as the leader of the opposition, could have been challenged by a new party - MDM, lead by former Renamo member Davis Simango. However, chances of an electoral upset and the relegation of Renamo to becoming the third force in the country have been pre-empted by the exclusion of MDM from most provinces. This was due to the alleged failure of the MDM to submit paperwork to the electoral commission which is dominated by Frelimo and Renamo members. The MDM claims that its paperwork was submitted on time but was then lost.
The ruling to exclude MDM from most provinces will mean that Renamo is likely to retain second place, and will ensure that Dhlakama does not lose face completely in what will probably be his last elections. While the opposition parties fight for the same votes, the real victor is Frelimo. A split in the votes for the opposition in provinces where both MDM and Renamo contest at the polls translates into a greater likelihood for a Frelimo victory in the same province.
Frelimo will benefit from this arrangement through more votes, as will Renamo which will not have to fight as hard in the provinces where MDM is banned. While MDM is unhappy about the ban to contest in all provinces, any number of parliamentary seats for a newcomer on the political scene such as MDM must also be considered a victory.