Last week I got the amazing opportunity to join the EU diplomatic observation mission to observe the municipal by-elections in Inhambane. Inhambane is the capital of the province with the same name and is located about 500km north of Maputo. Nicknamed “Terra da Boa Gente” (“The land of good people”) in 1948 by the explorer Vasco da Gama, Inhambane certainly is a beautiful, palm tree-filled place with colourful colonial architecture and a very calm and friendly athmosphere.
On Wednesday, the people of Inhambane voted for a new mayor, as their last one passed away in December following a heart attack. The two parties taking part in the elections were MDM and Frelimo, with candidates that both are former professors with wide popularity. The Frelimo candidate Benedito Guimino won over MDM’s Fernando Nhaca with 78,5% to 21,4%, and the voter turnout in the municipality was 38.8%.
The role of the international observers is to be present and see if the procedures are running smoothly, keep their eyes open to spot possible fraud or irregularities and check if regulations are being followed according to Mozambican law. So, for example – checking if police and security forces stay at a distance of at least 300m from the polling stations, or that no campaigning is being conducted in the area. The observer is, however, not allowed to interfere in any way, not even when there is an obvious fault or issue – what they do is to watch and take notes – and later report back and give feedback that can be used for future elections.
The polling stations were scattered in schools all over the municipality. Some of the stations had electricity, other didn’t. Some didn’t even have proper windows – or walls. We drove around to different places, taking a look in and around the polling stations, watching the voting procedures and talking to people. In the evening, as the voting was closing, we stayed at one place and observed the entire counting process. It continued until late at night and was quite tiring as every ballot had to be counted and the name of the chosen candidate read out loud, every ballot was also shown to all people present in the room, before it finally ended up in its designated pile on the floor. When the counting process was finalized, the maths had been done and a local winner had been declared – we left, met with the team again, and wrote a report before crashing to bed.
A thing I was touched by was in the beginning when I was watching the people who were on their way into the polling stations. There, in a remote rural area outside of town, I saw a young man with completely wrecked clothes and only one shoe. He showed his voting card and entered the polling station and got the same instructions as everybody else were being given. He seemed to be a first time voter and he seemed to be pretty lost but taking the procedure very seriously. I asked myself whether this man had any genuine interest in politics or if he maybe had been forced by somebody to go and vote for their candidate for a small amount of money. But then, after a couple of minutes, he came out again from the polling station with his face shining of pride. He looked at his index finger that had been dipped in ink – he had made his choice and nobody could take that away from him.
In a country like Mozambique, with a very recent history of violent conflict and continuing problems of poverty and corruption – seeing democracy and politics going beyond that, smoothly, calmly and considerably fairly – giving every person, no matter the position, a right to express his or her preference, is amazing.
The elections in Inhambane was my first ever election observation, and I was there with the best support I could have imagined. My supervisor knows everything about elections and is always patient enough to explain, share and answer my questions. In her company, I got the opportunity to learn and get a broader understanding of what we were actually doing which turned every single moment into a fruitful and interesting experience.
As usual, I give you the visual part of the story, enjoy.