Maputo, 6 Dec (AIM) - The Unit Two Primary School in Maputo's Fifth Urban District is located off a main road at the back of the airport.
At night, it is hard to spot: but we were guided to it on Sunday by the lights and noise of the bar next door.
Here three polling stations operated during the weekend general election. The staff began counting the votes immediately after the polls closed at 18.00 on Sunday - and did so under conditions that electoral staff in developed countries can hardly imagine.
For there is no electricity in the Unit Two Primary School (there is no glass in the windows either, but that is a minor consideration for a Mozambican election).
To give themselves light to count the votes, the staff hung a kerosene lamp from the ceiling. This was far from sufficient illumination, and so four candles were lit - one on a table, and three others on the concrete floor, where the ballot papers were eventually piled up by candidate.
One of the staff had a flashlight, used to examine problematic ballot papers where it was not entirely clear how the voter had marked them.
Material conditions in this polling station were difficult, but the staff behaved with the utmost courtesy, as they welcomed in journalists and observers. And everything was done with painstaking care and transparency: which was why it took many hours.
First the seals on the presidential election ballot box were broken, and the polling station staff read out the numbers of the seals.
This is one of the firmest guarantees against fraud. When the boxes are sealed, immediately before voting begins, the staff read out the numbers. If the seal numbers at the end of the exercise are not the same, that would be clear evidence that somebody had tampered with the ballot box.
This safeguard makes the claim by the former rebel movement Renamo that stuffed ballot boxes had been prepared, and would be switched for the real ones, very improbable. For it would not be enough to switch the boxes: anyone contemplating such a fraud would have to provide seals with exactly the same numbers as the seals on the genuine boxes.
There was nothing wrong with the seals in the Unit Two Primary School, and so the staff counted all the presidential ballots, one by one.
Then the ballots all went back into the ballot box, and the chairman of the polling station began the laborious task of taking each one out, unfolding it, and reading the vote it contained.
The ballot paper was then passed to the deputy president, who confirmed the vote, and then to a third staff member, who showed it to all the other people present (national and international observers, monitors from Renamo and from the ruling Frelimo Party, and journalists).
Maputo is a Frelimo stronghold and so the counting became a little monotonous, with the polling station chairman declaring over and over again "valid vote for Joaquim Chissano", interspersed occasionally with the words "valid vote for Afonso Dhlakama" (the Renamo leader and presidential candidate), and very occasionally by the words "blank ballot" (a ballot paper on which no mark has been made), or "invalid ballot".
The invalid ballots are where potential controversy lies. There were 22 invalid presidential ballots in this polling station, and some of them clearly were spoilt - cases, for instance, where voters had put crosses beside both Chissano and Dhlakama.
Others, however, were more problematic. In this AIM reporter's opinion, about half the votes declared invalid did show a clear preference.
There were cases where the voter had put his or her mark, not in the rectangle beside Chissano's photo, but immediately underneath it.
A mark on Chissano's photo was regarded as a valid vote, as was a mark on the Frelimo party emblem alongside. But a mark in the small space between the photo and the emblem was ruled an invalid vote.
One Dhlakama voter had put not one, but two, marks in the rectangle - this was ruled invalid.
Among the rules the polling station staff were following strictly is that there must be no writing, or even letters, on the ballot paper. A Dhlakama voter had made the mistake of signing the ballot paper - the vote was ruled invalid.
On one Chissano vote the mark looked like a "y" rather than an "x". This too was declared invalid.
But in every case the Renamo and Frelimo monitors had the opportunity to protest. They could, and should, have defended their parties' interests rather better, putting up a fight over dubious votes. Instead, on every occasion, they accepted the decision of the polling station staff.
However, excessively strict rulings at polling stations can be overturned later: all the invalid ballots will be looked at again by the National Elections Commission (CNE).
When the count was complete, it transpired that 812 people, out of a total of 1,000 registered at this station, had cast their votes - a turnout of 81.2 per cent.
There were 690 votes for Chissano, just 84 for Dhlakama, 22 invalid ballots, and 16 blank ones.
The polling station staff then switched their attentions to the parliamentary ballot box - repeating the same exhaustingly transparent process. But the parliamentary ballot has 12, rather than two names, ensuring that the count would take even longer.
It was now after 23.00. The count would clearly go on into the small hours of Monday morning, and so this reporter bid farewell to the polling station staff.
The abiding impression is the thoroughness and seriousness with which these young Mozambicans approached their job. Indeed, at every polling station I have visited over the past three days there was the same efficient and courteous attitude. If anything goes wrong in these elections, it is unlikely to be the fault of polling station staff.
Maputo, 6 Dec (AIM) - So far, the Mozambican electoral process has been "overwhelmingly free and fair", former United States President Jimmy Carter declared in Maputo on Monday.
The NGO set up by Carter, the Carter Centre, had an observation mission during the weekend's general elections, consisting of 50 people from 16 different countries, and led by Carter himself, and the former President of Botswana, Quett Masire.
The Carter Centre's observers visited about 650 polling stations in all 11 of the country's provincial constituencies.
He told a Maputo press conference on Monday that, whereas the 1994 elections had been largely organised by the United Nations, "this time it's a successful product of the people of this country".
He regarded the conduct both of the voter registration in the July-September period, and now the elections themselves, as "highly successful".
The Carter Centre estimated voter turnout at over 70 per cent, with rates of 80 per cent in some polling stations.
Carter said the observers were impressed by "the large number of women polling staff, and of women voters", and noted that "quite often the polling station chairperson was a woman".
Asked about Sunday's allegation by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the main opposition party, Renamo, that "electoral fraud" is being prepared, Carter said "I talked to the Renamo president this morning, and he did not repeat that allegation to me".
He said the correct behaviour of an opposition party that suspected fraud would be "to file an official complaint with the evidence".
Carter said the observers had not come across any evidence of fraud. Indeed, to date, the elections had been "overwhelmingly free and fair" - though he added the caveat that "we have no way to judge the future counting and consolidation of the votes. That can only be judged by observation between now and 19 December" (the date by which the final, definitive, national results should be released).
Counting took place at the polling stations on Sunday night. Provincial results should be announced by 12 December, and a week later the National Elections Commission (CNE) must announce the final results. This lengthy delay is caused by the need to re- verify all votes that were declared invalid at the polling stations, as well as those that were contested by the political party polling station monitors.
Carter said that some of the Centre's observers would stay on to watch the provincial count and the final tabulation of the results.
He criticised the way the CNE had handled Renamo's complaint that it was prevented from campaigning in Changara, Magoe and Cahora Bassa districts in the western province of Tete. He said the CNE thought that, since the accusation concerned a crime, it should therefore be dealt with by the police.
"While the police have responsibility to deal with electoral crimes, the issues raised in this complaint should be within the competence of an elections commission", said Carter. "The failure of the CNE to address these issues undermines the potential effectiveness and credibility of electoral institutions".
But he also criticised political parties for using the media to make their complaints "rather than using appropriate formal channels".
"Democratic institutions can only be strengthened when and if the problems that they are designed to address are in fact referred to them", he stressed.
Asked whether the CNE was really an independent body, Carter said that, although the ruling Frelimo Party has a majority on the CNE, "most of the decisions are taken by consensus rather than by a hard line party vote".
He added that the CNE was certainly independent "when compared with what we have seen in many other countries".
As for Dhlakama's announcement on Sunday night, within an hour of the polls closing, that "I've won", Carter said "It's premature for anyone to estimate what the outcome of the election is".
Maputo, 6 Dec (AIM) - With information reaching AIM from 271 polling stations, the preliminary results from the weekend's general elections, as of 15.30 on Monday afternoon, are as follows:
Joaquim Chissano 106,673
Afonso Dhlakama 48,641
Of these polling stations, 51 are in Maputo City, 67 in Maputo Province, 11 in Gaza, 10 in Inhambane, 47 in Sofala, three in Manica, 25 in Tete, nine in Zambezia, 18 in Nampula, 27 in Cabo Delgado, and five in Niassa.
All these numbers are preliminary and unofficial. They come from the polling station notices affixed to the walls of polling stations after the end of the count, and have yet to be confirmed by the National Elections Commission.
Some of these results were collected by AIM reporters, while others have been given by Radio Mozambique. From some polling stations AIM has the presidential result, but not the parliamentary result, or vice versa. The main reason for this is occasional difficulty in hearing clearly what radio reporters in various parts of the country are saying.
The majority of the results AIM has so far continue to be from the southern provinces, particularly Maputo City and Maputo Province, which are Frelimo strongholds.
Very few results are yet available from some of the Renamo strongholds, notably in Manica and Zambezia provinces, in the centre of the country. The Renamo/Dhlakama vote is certain to improve as more results come in from these areas.
Mozambique News Agency
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Tel: 0171 928 5657,
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