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Free, Fair, Peaceful Election for Mozambique? No Way, Analysts Say

An escalating insurgency, attacks on political campaigners and a terrified population have set a worrying scene for Mozambique's election on October 15.

While the poll looks, on the surface, like a simple two-way contest between the long-ruling Frelimo party and the opposition Renamo party, analysts say it's a complex situation for the Southern African nation.

In fact, analysts are worried the poll will lack two essential qualities -- the first being fairness.

"It’s not going to be free and fair," said Jasmine Opperman, who heads the Africa branch of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium. "There are simply too many indicators going against what the (Southern African Development Community) is supposed to stand for, in terms of democracy and the standard of democracy."

But, she added, the SADC has failed to enforce standards in other elections, such as in Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. "The laws change, the interests change as it goes along," she said.

Nor is the election bringing what this war-torn nation badly needs: peace after decades of conflict between the government and the armed wing of the opposition.

Despite a recent peace deal, human rights experts say they suspect the accord will not last.

A deadly insurgency is roaring in the nation’s north, and political campaigning has been marred by hundreds of deaths and numerous reports of political violence, says Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado.

“These elections, we can safely say they are on track to be the most violent the country has ever had," she said.

Opperman says the insurgency in the north will make it almost impossible to have a smooth vote in that area.

"To even talk, to even think about elections in this area is a joke," she said. "It is not, simply, going to happen. People are living in fear, for those who have been to Cabo Delgado, for those who have spoken and done interviews with the locals, you can taste the fear."

Analysts predict a different struggle in the seat of power, where Frelimo has held power since 1975.

The ruling party saw its worst result in 2018 municipal elections, bringing in just 51 percent of the vote.

"For the first time in 40 years since independence, Frelimo faces the real risk of losing," Machado said.

But Opperman says she fears a worse fate. Renamo has repeatedly accused Frelimo of abusing government resources to campaign, of manipulating the voters' roll, and of rigging polls.

"There is no way that they’re going to let go of power," she said. "And I think we must be clear on that."