Mozambique holds local elections Wednesday in a vote that could test progress in the country’s peace talks after the ruling Frelimo party was accused of violence and intimidation during the campaign.
The main opposition Renamo party, which has maintained an armed wing since the end of the country’s civil war, is running in the municipal polls for the first time in 10 years.
Renamo fought a brutal 16-year civil war against the Marxist-inspired Frelimo government that devastated the economy and left one million people dead. When the war ended in 1992, the group soon began participating in elections.
In 2013, a wave of fresh violence erupted between Renamo rebels and government troops, raising fears of a return to civil war. But three years later, the party declared a truce and opened fresh peace talks with the government.
It is now hoping for a breakthrough ahead of next year’s general election, but recent electoral reforms could leave the opposition vote split.
The 13-day election campaign ended on Sunday after outbreaks of violence between rival party supporters.
Police said 26 people had been arrested in the campaign, almost all of them reportedly supporters of Renamo.
Ahead of the vote, a police officer, who is also a local Frelimo leader, allegedly shot a rival Renamo supporter in Tete province ahead of the vote. But nobody has been arrested.
Renamo supporters say they have faced intimidation and assaults during the campaign, raising tensions ahead of the ballot.
“Our members and sympathisers are asking for the party’s leadership (to) intervene in their defence since the police do nothing,” Renamo’s acting leader Ossufo Momade last week.
Speaking to AFP, Domingos do Rosario, a politics professor at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, warned that the party felt under attack and could well retaliate.
“Renamo thinks it is being persecuted and may act accordingly to defend itself,” he told AFP.
On Wednesday, the vote will be held in Mozambique’s 53 municipalities, 49 of which are currently governed by Frelimo.
The four other municipalities — among them the cities of Beira, Nampula and Quelimane — were won by the second opposition MDM party in the last elections.