President Filipe Nyusi is widely expected to win a second term, while the main opposition party, Renamo hopes to win more political power,following a peace deal signed between the two civil war rivals in August.
Under the deal, provincial governors will now be picked by the main party in each province, rather than the government in Maputo, and Renamo is banking on traditional provincial strongholds such as Sofala to gain influence.
“The biggest threat to the peace process is if Renamo does not deliver a good number of provinces,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House.
Frelimo has dominated the politics since the southern African country’s independence from Portugal in 1975.
President Felipe Nyusi is the incumbent, having succeeded his mentor Armando Guebuza as head of Mozambique in 2014. The country’s first president from the Southern region, Nyusi is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency in his home region.
Ossufo Momade, took over the reigns of the National Resistance of Mozambique (Renamo) last year, when its historic leader, Afonso Dhlakama died suddenly. He signed the peace deal with government to end the decades-old conflict, but is yet to win the full support of the movement’s armed wing.
David Simango, who seceded from Renamo in 2009, is contesting the presidency for the third time. Since 2003, Simango has been mayor of the Mozambican city of Beira, ravaged by Cyclone Idai six months ago.
Mario Albinois the outsider of the presidential election, leading the United Movement for Integral Salvation (AMUSI), which was created by former members of Simango’s party.
President Nyusi has pledged to develop the country’s gas reserves, and consequently tackle the extreme poverty that is fuelling an Islamist insurgency in regions like Cabo Delgado. Mozambique is set to become a top global gas exporter, and expects investments worth $50, more than four times its current GDP.
Nyusi’s government has taken a hit in reputation by the relentless attacks on villages in the gas-rich region, a Frelimo stronghold. Attacks have increased in the run-up to the vote, making campaigning impossible in some districts, said Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado.
While a peace deal was signed in August to end decades of hostilities, a breakaway faction of Renamo fighters that disputes some aspects of the accord has been staging attacks in the group’s traditional central strongholds, demanding that party leader Ossufo Momade resign and the election be postponed.
Senior Frelimo politicians and associates, including a former finance minister and the ex-president’s son have been charged in a $2 billion debt scandal that has tarnished the party’s image. The discovery of previously undisclosed loans, all guaranteed by the government, prompted the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and a sovereign debt default.
Six months after two cyclones ravaged the country, killing hundreds and wreaking destruction across central and northern regions, the effects are still being felt, in the lead up to the election. Researchers say affected Mozambicans lost their voter cards or identity documents needed to cast ballots, during the storms. Opposition parties have also accused the government of not doing enough to assist affected people
Renamo fought Frelimo for 16 years from 1977 to 1992 in a Cold War conflict that killed about one million people. It ended in a truce but sporadic violence has flared in the years since,including after Renamo challenged election results in 2014.
The problem for Renamo in places such as Beira, the capital of Sofala province, is that Frelimo, as well as the smaller Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), are muscling in on its traditional turf.
Nyusi’s credibility has been knocked by the insurgency and a graft scandal that sank the economy, but Frelimo holds numerous districts in Sofala following local elections last year, and dozens of people told Reuters the ruling party had their vote.
Frelimo spokesman Caifadine Manasse said it had consolidated the rule of law and tackled graft.
Chatham House’s Vines said if Renamo wins three or four of Mozambique’s 10 provinces in next week’s vote, that should be sufficient to placate its supporters.
But any fewer and a recent bout of party infighting over the peace deal could worsen. Renamo’s leadership could lose control of sections of the party, threatening commitment to the agreement or even a return to targeted violence, he said.
Renamo spokeswoman Maria Ivone Soares said the party was convinced it would win in Sofala and other provinces.
“The results are unlikely to be disappointing because of the … corruption, unemployment, inequality and misery that have been promoted in this country since national independence.”
The president is elected using the two-round system, and must win an absolute majority to avoid a run-off or second round.
The 250 members of the Assembly are elected by proportional representation, where the party with the most votes appoints the leaders in each region.
Mozambicans in the diaspora (Africa and Europe) are also represented.