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Low voter turnout puzzles analysts

[Mozambique] Ruling party supporters.

Mozambique's presidential and parliamentary elections have been marked by a sharp drop in voter turnout compared to previous years, with around half the registered voters making their way to the polls.

The National Electoral Commission (CNE) appealed to the electorate on Thursday to vote but this had little effect and turnout on Thursday was even lower than on Wednesday.

The Mozambican Political Process Bulletin estimated that 3.5 million voters went to the polls over two days of polling: slightly less than half the estimated 7.7 million eligible voters.

There are about 10 million names on the voters' roll, which includes duplicates and the names of deceased voters.

In the 1994 and 1999 general elections, voter figures were 5.4 million and 4.9 million respectively. This year's general election turnout was, however, much better than the figure for last year's local government elections, where only 15 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots.

Former United States President Jimmy Carter, who led an observer delegation from his Carter Center, cited a number of possible reasons for the low voter presence.

"It could be a belief that the process is not appropriate, or that their vote won't make a difference, or they may be happy with the way things are," Carter told journalists in the capital, Maputo, on Friday.

Savana, one the country's most respected political newspapers, on Friday described the low turnout as "a red card to the Mozambican political class".

"There are those who insist that (abstention) was a conscious political act: a rejection of all the political parties," Savana argued.

"One must take note of the fact that in almost the whole country, there was little presence of youth in the voting queues," the newspaper continued.

Bheki Mnyandu of the Southern African Development Community parliamentary delegation said party representatives he had spoken to had no idea why the turnout was so low. In his opinion, "maybe people have no confidence when the government has been in power so long, and development has been so slow".

Thirty-seven polling stations failed to open on either Wednesday or Thursday because heavy rain had rendered them inaccessible, CNE spokesperson Filipe Mandlate announced on Thursday evening, and said about 37,000 potential voters would be affected.

The stations were in the northern provinces of Niassa, Zambezia and Cabo Delgado, and the southern province of Gaza.

In places where there was no rain, some observers blamed hot, humid weather for discouraging people from waiting in queues. Temperatures in Maputo reached around 35ºC on both polling days.

Vote counting is underway in the provincial capitals, with the final verification of national results due to be conducted in Maputo from 7 December. Carter expressed the hope that the CNE would allow observers to scrutinise the final process, in which the results sheets of entire polling stations may be rejected if deemed irregular by the CNE, and the validity of dubious ballot papers may be reconsidered.

"We have not yet been informed by the CNE about the degree of access that international and domestic observers will have to the final vote tabulation process, nor to the examination of returns from each voting station, and this causes us some concern," Carter said.

He pointed out that in 1999 the number of votes annulled by the CNE had been 11 percent of the total ballots cast, which could affect the final result.

However, democracy in Mozambique was strengthening, Carter said, and this year's electoral process had been "almost perfect as far as meticulous compliance with rules and regulations was concerned".

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