Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mozambique: Is Mozambique Headed for a Presidential Third Term Fiasco?

Source: ISS

Is Mozambique Headed for a Presidential Third Term Fiasco?

Gwinyayi Dzinesa, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza shuffled his cabinet on Monday, 8 October, sacking his presumed political successor Prime Minister Aires Aly and replacing him with Alberto Vaquina, formerly governor of Tete province. Aly had been the president’s second-in-command and was reportedly being groomed to succeed Guebuza in the 2014 election. Four cabinet ministers also got the boot in the cabinet reshuffle, which can be perceived as strategically aimed at putting in place a loyal and pliant team to ensure Guebeza’s continued control.

Significantly, the cabinet reshuffle came after Guebuza was re-elected unopposed to a third term in office as president of Mozambique’s ruling Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) at its 10th Congress in September. Out of the 1 858 votes cast in the secret ballot, Guebuza predictably garnered a staggering 1 835 (98,76%). There were 23 blank ballots (1,24%). Guebuza’s vote mirrored those won by his predecessor, Joaquim Chissano, at the 8th FRELIMO Congress in 2002. Then Chissano, also unopposed, won 96,9% of the votes, while the remaining 3,1% were blank ballots. Notably, Aly’s presidential aspirations came to a thundering crash at the 10th Congress, when he lost his seat on FRELIMO’s decision-making Political Commission, while Vaquina was one of the newcomers elected to the party’s most powerful body.

Interestingly, Vaquina has mainly overseen the multi-billion-dollar coal-mining investment boom in Tete, home to one of the world’s largest untapped coal and natural gas reserves. The shuffle comes as the FRELIMO government faces growing domestic pressure to do more to share the benefits of the country’s vast coal and gas deposits with the country’s citizens amid widespread poverty. The inequality in the country is epitomised by the majority of Mozambicans reportedly scraping by on an average $400 a year despite annual economic growth of around 7% in the last five years. Tellingly, in his speech accepting re-election to the FRELIMO presidency, Guebuza committed himself to working for the ‘dream of all Mozambicans ... the dream of wellbeing and happiness’, reflecting the party’s awareness that it needs to address popular clamour for more social equity.

Guebuza’s re-election as leader of FRELIMO and his subsequent cabinet reshuffle have shaken up the country’s political landscape ahead of the 2014 presidential vote. Traditionally, FRELIMO’s leader automatically becomes its presidential candidate, but Guebuza (69) is already serving his second five-year term as the country’s president, the limit set by the constitution. Guebuza, who was first elected as president in 2004, has previously stated he will step down as the country’s president at the end of his term, in line with the constitution.

In light of the above developments, the following scenarios may unfold. The first is based on speculation around the possible creation of two centres of power in Mozambican politics after the 2014 general elections, whereby Guebuza would be the chief of the ruling party while somebody else would be president of the country, as a FRELIMO victory is currently highly likely in the face of weak political opposition. However, factionalism has recently wreaked havoc within FRELIMO (in power since independence from Portugal in 1975), making it unclear whom the party might choose as its presidential candidate. Guebuza’s passing the baton to the younger Vaquina (56) could signal the start of a necessary generation change in the former liberation movement turned ruling party.

The second scenario assumes that Guebuza will fall for the third-term temptation and consequently tamper with the constitution in this pursuit. Regionally, there is a mixed record of political adventures by incumbents seeking third presidential terms. Former president Sam Nujoma amended Namibia’s constitution to allow him a third term as president. Zambia’s Frederick Chiluba and Malawi’s Bakili Muluzi, however, failed to achieve the same amid domestic criticism. There was also speculation that former South African President Thabo Mbeki aspired to a third term as state president with his unsuccessful bid for a third term as president of the ruling African National Congress.

In the third scenario, Guebuza would not amend the constitution of the country to enable him to run for a third term as president, but would do so to provide for a more powerful prime minister. He would then, reminiscent of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, shoehorn a stop-gap FRELIMO candidate for the presidency of the country and essentially continue to pull the strings of power while waiting out a presidential term as prime minister before returning to the top job.

Perhaps the best-case scenario would be for Guebuza to take a cue from his predecessor and stick to his promise that he will not seek a third term. For, after Guebuza had won the December 2004 presidential election when Chissano was still head of FRELIMO, Chissano ended any possible conflict by resigning as leader of the party in March 2005, thus enabling a sole power centre. The otherwise potentially disastrous consequences for FRELIMO and Mozambique’s democracy could be ameliorated if Guebuza continues heading the party until its members elect another leader. Then, to avoid two centres of power, he would resign, allowing the party to nominate the new choice as its electoral candidate.

Although it is hard to say how Guebuza will be viewed half a century from now, relinquishing the party presidency and adhering to the country’s constitutional presidential two-term limit could nurture reverence for him as a leader who cared for Mozambique’s democracy, constitutionalism and self-esteem. This would distinguish him from the aforementioned regional political entrepreneurs who tried unsuccessfully to cling to power, thus risking their legacies. Without a doubt, using the remainder of his presidential term to more vigorously address Mozambique’s problems of corruption and poverty could stand Guebuza’s legacy in good stead.