Mozambique diaspora vote: Lessons for Zim

Ellen Dingani..Elections expert

LAST week, on October 15, Mozambicans went to the polls to elect their president as well as members of the legislative and provincial assembly. These were the sixth consecutive presidential and legislative elections following Mozambique’s attainment of independence on June 25, 1975 thus ending years of Portuguese colonial rule.

In spite of this achievement of independence, Mozambique has had ongoing civil resistance between the main opposition political party Renamo (Resistencia Nacional Mocambicana) and the ruling Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front) party. The elections took place within a context of an ongoing peace process and with the signing of a Permanent Ceasefire Agreement between Renamo and the government on August 1, 2019, which the military wing of Renamo has refused to recognise.

Of interest in this election were the strides the country has made in embracing some of the progressive reforms that seek to align Mozambican electoral law to the constitution and other international standards and principles governing the conduct of democratic elections. Furthermore, Mozambique can be commended for the continual implementation of other reforms such as diaspora voting in spite of the fragile peace and troubled economy.

The practical implementation of diaspora voting is complicated by factors such as the number of voters, their locations, the distances involved, the cost of diaspora voting and the complexity of the voting system. The provisions of the 1990 Mozambican constitution, revised in 2004, provides for all Mozambicans living in the diaspora to vote in their countries of residence.

However, external voting was first implemented in Mozambique some 10 years after the law on external voting was written. Mozambique had to be sure that all the necessary mechanisms to administer diaspora voting were in place. Many observer missions in the just-ended elections commended Mozambique for its consistency in ensuring inclusivity and broadening citizens’ participation in electoral processes.

Implementing diaspora voting

The question of diaspora voting, also referred to as external voting, is usually presented as a matter of principle, based on the universality of the right to vote and universal suffrage. However, for such a right to be practised it has to be enabled by legislation and procedures.

In the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) compendium on recommendations by election observer missions (EOMs) to the Zimbabwe 2018 harmonised elections, under recommendations “suffrage”, the absence of the diaspora in the voting process was noted. EOMs such as Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), International Republic Institute/National Democratic Institute (IRI/NDI), Sadc Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) and even Zesn advised that consideration should be given to allow voting by Zimbabweans in the diaspora through instituting mechanisms in the electoral laws that ensure the right to vote is extended to all citizens including even those that are imprisoned.

Just like citizens living inside the country, Mozambique requires its citizens living outside the country to register to vote in line with Article 4(2) on Right of Suffrage in the Mozambican Electoral Law which states that: “The voter registration of citizens is an indispensable condition for the exercise of the right to vote”.

So registration brigades which are known in other jurisdictions as registration officers are deployed to the nine countries where external voting takes place to register all those who are interested in participating in the elections. Mozambique has so far opened diaspora voting for its citizens in nine countries which are: South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Swaziland, Portugal and Germany to exercise their right to vote.

In the recent elections, a total of 20 570 Mozambicans in the aforementioned countries expressed interest to participate in the elections through registering as voters. Though this figure may seem small given that close to 13 million voters were registered, the mere provision of the facility ensured inclusivity and sought to protect electoral rights and fulfil international obligations and provisions provided for in the Mozambican constitution.

The voter registration process in the diaspora was done during the same time when registration was taking place in-country in the month of May 2019. In Malawi, which is one of the countries listed for external voting, the registration of Mozambicans was temporarily suspended by the Malawian authorities as the country was also preparing for its general elections. The registration only resumed after Malawi’s own elections. No reports of problems or challenges were reported in other countries.

Article 41 of Mozambican electoral law requires that polling stations that are set up outside the national territory operate in places proposed by embassies, consulates general or government offices abroad. Thus Mozambicans in the nine countries were able to vote for the president and their member of parliament on October 15, 2019 at the various above-mentioned places.

According to the Electoral System of Mozambique, they vote for 248 MPs internally, the other two (to make them 250) are for the Mozambicans abroad, one for those in Europe, the other for those in Africa. Furthermore, Article 161(4) stipulates that: Each of the constituencies outside the country corresponds to one member of the parliament. This means, citizens living outside Mozambique are represented in Parliament by a member of parliament.

Further, Mozambique has 13 constituencies (círculos eleitorais) composed by its 10 provinces, the capital city of Maputo and the diaspora in Africa and rest of the world. Voters in Maputo and in the diaspora elect the president and members of the national assembly only.
Just like Zimbabwe, there seems to be no official figures of Mozambicans living in the diaspora.

However, for Zimbabwe it is estimated that as many as three million Zimbabweans are outside the country after many people fled economic and political problems that beset the country in the last few decades.

Section 67(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that “Every Zimbabwean has the right to vote”. This right has not been extended to Zimbabweans living abroad, giving rise to calls from different spheres for their inclusion in electoral processes.

The major reason on this disablement that has been cited by scholars is premised on the untested belief that the diaspora will vote for the opposition parties because there is a subtle belief that the ruling party is the reason why such people are in the diaspora.

However, in Zimbabwe a small segment of this population is able to vote through the postal ballot system. The current Zimbabwean laws permit external voting for Zimbabweans through postal voting. However, that right is limited to citizens that are outside the country while in the service of the state, such as diplomats, civil servants and members of the armed forces. It is crucial that Zimbabweans who are temporarily or permanently domiciled outside the country also exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders through elections.

In a recent paper published by Zesn on diaspora voting, the paper acknowledges the great appetite for diaspora voting that is shared by key stakeholders in the electoral processes in Zimbabwe. The paper proffers a number of diaspora voting models that a country can consider in implementing diaspora voting. The paper further emphasises on the need for wide consultations and engagement of key stakeholders in selecting or choosing the best model for Zimbabwe.

Currently, there are calls for the government of Mozambique to consider further expanding diaspora voting to other countries to broaden participation of citizens. Zimbabwe can take a cue from this by starting with a few countries like South Africa, Botswana, United Kingdom and others where the majority Zimbabwean citizens reside.

Another interesting observation is the provision in the Mozambican electoral law for polling officials, observers, security officers to be able to vote at polling stations where they are deployed on election day. This is to some extent a form of special voting that seeks to ensure enfranchisement of all eligible citizens so that they can exercise their right to vote in a transparent manner.

Universal suffrage recognises that voting is a universal right that should not be infringed upon and should be exercised by all Zimbabweans regardless of their status and where they are staying. There is therefore need to ensure that the legal framework for elections in Zimbabwe supports diaspora voting as a progressive reform, particularly the alignment of the Electoral Act to the constitution and with provisions provided for at international level.

Dingani is the Zesn programmes co-ordinator and recently observed elections in Mozambique. Views in this article represent some of Zesn’s electoral reform calls on diaspora voting. Any feedback or comments please write to info@zesn.net

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