Maputo — Delegations from the Mozambican government and from the country’s main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, met yet again in Maputo on Wednesday morning for what was described as an “extraordinary” session in the government-Renamo dialogue.
But, ordinary or extraordinary, the results of all the recent sessions have been exactly the same – deadlock, because Renamo refuses to move on from its demand for “parity” with the ruling Frelimo Party on the National Elections Commission (CNE).
As has been evident for many months, this is a demand that the government cannot accept. Yet instead of moving onto other items on the agenda, Renamo has dug its heels in and insists there can be no advance on anything else until a “political agreement” is reached on the electoral legislation.
The Wednesday meeting thus, like the proverbial record stuck in a groove, simply ran over arguments that have already been repeated to the point of exhaustion. Nothing new was added.
As on previous occasions, the head of the government delegation, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco, told the press conference at the end of the talks that there is nothing to stop Renamo from depositing its proposals in the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
On Monday, the Assembly chairperson, Veronica Macamo, promised that, as soon as the Renamo proposals were received, they would be distributed to all deputies. The relevant working commissions of the Assembly would be asked for written opinions on the proposal, and the Assembly’s ruling board would schedule the matter for debate.
The current extraordinary sitting of the Assembly is due to end on Thursday – but if the Renamo proposal was indeed received, then the sitting could doubtless be extended.
Pacheco pointed out that the Renamo parliamentary group is entitled to deposit proposals for legislation or amendments and needs no go-ahead from the government to do so. Renamo could deposit its document with the Assembly immediately.
He thought Renamo stood to gain from this, since the government has accepted in full 12 of the 19 points contained in the Renamo document, suggested that four be reformulated, and had rejected just three.
The government, for example, has no objection to Renamo’s proposal for recounts of votes, provided these take place at the polling stations, and it accepts that electoral courts can be set up to deal with electoral disputes, two matters that are not covered by the current legislation.
The government also accepts the Renamo proposals that political party monitors can be as close as possible to the polling station table, and that no members of polling station staff or party monitors should be arrested during the elections.
But the three demands the government does not accept are dear to Renamo’s heart. These include a new calendar for the elections – which would certainly mean postponing the municipal elections scheduled for 20 November this year, and possibly the general elections scheduled for October 2014.
Renamo also insists on “parity” with Frelimo in appointing members to the CNE. Pacheco has repeatedly pointed out that there is no legal basis for this demand.
The problem could have been solved by cutting political parties out of the CNE altogether. In many other countries, election commissions are truly independent and do not contain members appointed by political parties. But when, in March 2012, Frelimo proposed a CNE consisting entirely of members drawn from civil society, Renamo recoiled from the idea in horror.
Frelimo argues that, if political parties are to appoint members of the CNE, there must be a criterion for doing so. The general practice in Mozambique is that, for any bodies where the Assembly chooses members, it does so on the basis of the number of seats held by each party. Since Frelimo has 191 seats, Renamo only 51 and the Mozambique Democratic Movement eight, it is inevitable that Frelimo will choose more members than the two opposition parties. That is the price that Renamo pays for its insistence that political parties should be represented on the CNE.
The government also rejects Renamo’s demand for the politicisation of the CNE’s executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE). Renamo wants political appointees at all levels of STAE looking over the shoulders of the election professionals.
These demands were rejected when the Assembly voted on the electoral laws in December. Now Renamo wants to reintroduce them, in the hope that, if they bear a government stamp of approval, the Frelimo parliamentary group will be obliged to change its mind.
Renamo does not want to have 12 or 16 of its 19 points accepted in the Assembly. It wants all or nothing. The head of the Renamo delegation, Saimone Macuiana, told the press conference that “the government has not accepted the points which would allow Renamo to submit its proposal to the Assembly of the Republic”.
For Macuiana, the only way forward now was intervention by President Armando Guebuza. But there is no good reason for imagining that Guebuza would take a different position from that of the government he appointed.
Guebuza is currently in the western province of Tete.
When reporters asked him about the dialogue with Renamo, he said he wanted Renamo to end its boycott of the elections, but had no way of obliging Renamo to take part. “We are continuing to work in the dialogue to persuade Renamo to take part in the elections, but we can’t force them to do so”, he remarked.
In the Assembly, the Frelimo group has repeatedly said it is willing to debate the Renamo proposals, but that depends on Renamo submitting them. Frelimo deputy Francisco Mucanheia, who chairs the Assembly commission on agriculture, told the independent television station STV “We are ready to discuss this point and analyse it. But first it has to be deposited in parliament, and, as far as we know, it hasn’t yet been deposited”.
‘It wasn’t Frelimo who expressed an interest in revising the electoral legislation”, he added. “As you know, the Assembly has already passed the legislation and during the previous two years we were involved in discussing it. We are comfortable with the provisions of the current legislation”.
“It was the Renamo group which expressed an interest in changing it”, Mucanheia continued. “We have no agenda for altering the legislation now, but we are ready to analyse and discuss it, if these amendments are submitted by those who believe that the current legislation does not satisfy their interests”.
But if Renamo did not submit its proposals, then “the electoral process will continue normally”, he said.
The spokesperson for the Renamo parliamentary group, Arnaldo Chalaua, simply repeated the mantra that Renamo will not submit its own proposal until a “political agreement” with the government is signed. Like Macuiana, he believed that Guebuza could somehow ride in and save the day for Renamo.
It was up to the President, he said, “to define the path this country should follow”. The Renamo group in the Assembly could do “absolutely nothing because we are depending on the negotiations”.
Renamo has already missed the deadline for registering for the municipal elections. Doubtless, if Renamo were, even at this late stage, to abandon its boycott, the CNE could tweak the rules to allow Renamo to register late.
But time is running out, and if Renamo remains intransigent then it seems certain that the local elections will be a battle between Frelimo and the MDM, the only two forces which have pledged to stand candidates in all 53 municipalities.