Maputo, 3 Aug (AIM) – The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday voted to amend the country’s Constitution so as to remove the commitment to hold elections for district assemblies in 2024.
This commitment was part of a package of constitutional amendments on decentralization, approved by the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in 2018, after negotiations between the government and the main opposition party, Renamo.
At the time, nobody asked how district elections would be financed, or what powers district assemblies would have.
In 2022, President Filipe Nyusi called for a reflection on the viability and pertinence of district elections, much to the fury of the two opposition parties, Renamo, and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), which took the position that, since the elections are in the Constitution, they must be held.
For a brief period, it seemed that Renamo was softening its position. In June, Renamo leader Ossufo Momade suggested that elections could be held, not in all 154 districts, but only in some of them.
He suggested that the principle of “gradualism”, already in effect with regard to municipal assemblies, should be extended to the districts. Municipalisation began in1998, with elections for mayors and assemblies in just 33 cities and towns. Gradually, more towns have been municipalized until reaching the current figure of 65 municipalities.
The same approach, Momade said, could be taken to the districts. “With regard to the district elections, we reiterate our position that they should be held, since this is a constitutional command”.
“Our desire”, he continued, “is that gradualism in decentralization should be achieved by holding district elections in some districts”.
Momade did not say which districts he believed should hold elections. One obvious possibility would be to avoid holding elections in districts which cover the same, or much the same, area as municipalities – such as all the provincial capitals.
There is a precedent for this. Maputo city is a municipality, a province and a district. But no provincial assembly has been set up in the city, since it would clearly duplicate the work of the municipal assembly.
Momade’s words seemed to open the possibility of a compromise. But in the Assembly on Thursday, it was as if Momade had never spoken. All the Renamo deputies who spoke in the debate reverted to the original position that assemblies must be elected in all districts.
They even claimed that failing to hold the elections would threaten a new wave of violence.
The majority Frelimo Party claimed that when the matter was discussed in meetings across the country earlier this year, there was no popular support for holding district elections in 2024.
Further setting up an entirely new tier of local government across the country would cost millions of dollars. One estimate is the between them the district and provincial assemblies could swallow up 40 per cent of the Mozambican state budget.
The constitutional amendment proposed by the Frelimo parliamentary group set no new date for district elections, merely stating that they would be held “when the material and financial conditions for them exist”.
The amendment passed by 178 votes to 49. All the Frelimo deputies in the room voted in favour, while the 44 Renamo and five MDM deputies voted against.
“Frelimo has just ripped up the Constitution”, claimed one of the opposition deputies.
Despite this hyperbole, the opposition stayed in the chamber for the next item of business, which is amendments to the Labour Law.