Mozambique: Will Guebuza Get to Choose Frelimo’s Presidential Candidate?

President Guebuza’s supporters are trying to ensure a loyalist emerges as Frelimo’s presidential candidate. But they are facing strong competition from within the party.

Today, the Central Committee of Mozambique’s ruling party begins meetings that will decide Frelimo’s presidential candidate for the 2014 general elections. The assembly is taking place in Matola and will run until 2 March. Few are willing to predict what the outcome will be.

Under the constitution, President Armando Guebuza is unable to run for a third term in office. However, having ensured that he is the party president, Guebuza can control the choice of his successor.

Furthermore, party secretary-general Filipe Paunde is a Guebuza loyalist, and at the party congress in September 2012 a political commission sympathetic to Guebuza was also elected.

Yet despite this, growing opposition within the party means Guebuza’s preferences may be seriously challenged. Frelimo always maintains a united face to the outside world and will support whomever is chosen as candidate, but there are bitter internal struggles going on.

In 2004, the constitution in place at the time would have allowed President Joaqium Chissano to stand again, but Guebuza organised a rebellion and was named Frelimo’s presidential candidate.

Now, a decade later, this history may be rebounding on him with Chissano the focus of much opposition. Graça Machel is also said to be helping organise the anti-Guebuza campaign.

Chissano was replaced in 2004 because it was said that the party elite had become corrupt under his leadership, that self-interest was dominating over the national interest, and that Chissano had performed poorly in the 1999 elections.

Exactly the same is now being said about Guebuza, with many specifically pointing to the unexpectedly good showing of the opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), in municipal elections last November.

Guebuza’s image has also been damaged by the confrontation with Frelimo’s longer-standing rival, Renamo. The attempt to defeat Renamo guerrillas – who returned to the bush in late 2012 citing a number of political grievances – through militarily measures has failed.

And earlier this month, Frelimo ignominiously caved in almost completely to Renamo’s demands for changes to the electoral law, making concessions that could have been made over a year ago.

The contenders

The Guebuza faction’s manoeuvres over the next president candidate began with the Political Commission’s choice of three “pre-candidates“, all Guebuza loyalists, to be presented to the Central Committee.

They

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are Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina, Agriculture Minister José Pacheco, and Defence Minister Filipe Nyussi. Frelimo secretary-general Paunde then made a public statement saying there was “no space” for further names.

The response from many Frelimo figures was to insist that there was no such limitation and that the Central Committee was free to make its own decisions and was not be controlled by Paunde.

Meetings earlier this week of important party groups reveal some of the contours of the party split. On the one hand, the Association of Veterans of the National Liberation Struggle (ACLLN) assembly last weekend called for Paunde and the entire secretariat to be replaced, and for more presidential candidates to be considered.

The Veterans Association – which includes not just the old guard, but also the children of many of the key figures – have a very strong role in the party. On the other side of things, the party’s youth wing (OJM) has reportedly remained loyal to Guebuza, backing Paunde and the three pre-candidates.

It appears that Guebuza’s opponents have chosen to start the fight by going after the party secretariat, and will try to replace Paunde – probably with their preferred presidential candidate, former prime minister Luisa Diogo. If this succeeds, she would be put forward as another pre-candidate.

Whether the anti-Guebuza faction will succeed in this difficult to predict. The vote will certainly be close, with both sides counting votes, and intense internal negotiations between the party elders going on.

Many central committee members will hope that the party “elephants” will sort this out between them, but there will probably first have to be some procedural votes over the party secretariat and number of pre-candidates to test the strength of the two sides.

Guebuza wants one of his three pre-candidates to succeed him, his opponents want Luisa Diogo, and there is palpable hostility between the president on one side and Chissano and Diogo on the other. If the contending forces remain closely balanced, a likely compromise candidate is Eduardo Mulémbwè, a former speaker of parliament.

Some of the other possible candidates who have been running campaigns, including on Facebook, include: Eneas Comiche, former mayor of Maputo; Aires Ali, former prime minister; and Tomas Salomão, former planning and finance minister and former executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). These figures are less likely as presidential candidates, but could be awarded positions such as speaker of parliament or prime minister as part of the negotiations, as a way of ensuring regional balance.

This article was originally distributed by Mozambique 242 News Reports & Clippings.

Joseph Hanlon is a social scientist and Senior Lecturer in Development Policy and Practice at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. He researches international financial institutions, the aid industry, and debt; Mozambique, and civil wars.