Mozambique’s main opposition party has warned of a growing risk of instability in the energy-rich nation after parliament rejected a bill that would have given it autonomous powers in regions where it has strong support.
Renamo, which lost fractious national elections in October, put a bill before parliament last week that would have given it rights to elect its own governors in six oil, gas and coal rich districts where it scored a majority at the polls.
However, the ruling Frelimo party voted against the measure, while the small opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement abstained, consigning Renamo to a resounding defeat.
“One thing is certain, the country is sitting on a barrel of gunpowder,” Renamo parliamentarian José Manteigas told Reuters on Wednesday, urging President Filipe Nyusi, who is a member of Frelimo, to intervene and revive the legislation.
Frelimo, a former Marxist liberation movement, fought a 16-year civil war against Renamo and there have been concerns that Mozambique could slip back into conflict after Renamo withdrew from the 1992 peace deal that ended the fighting.
In power since Mozambique won independence from Portugal in 1975, Frelimo dismissed suggestions that rejection of the bill would ignite violence.
“We don’t believe that Renamo would go against the will and desire of the Mozambican population, which is not a return to war, but peace and stability,” Frelimo lawmaker Damião José told Reuters.
President Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation after Renamo parliamentarians had refused to take up their seats following the 2014 election, but signs of cracks in the fragile detente between the two main parties have begun to surface.
Manteigas said Renamo preferred a peaceful resolution to the problem, but warned darkly of “armed men in the bushes” if there was no change of heart.