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FRELIMO Balances Keep President Guebuza in Check

Through its democratic structures, consensus and inclusiveness, FRELIMO's congress has assured Guebuza he is not all powerful.
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A pro-FRELIMO sign in Maputo. Photograph by lusciousblopster.

The Liberation Front of Mozambique’s (FRELIMO) 10th congress, held in Pemba in late September, was a reminder that Mozambique's ruling party is still relatively democratic, broad-based, and not completely predictable. In particular, it highlighted the fact that while President Armando Guebuza may be the most important person in the party, he does not have total control.

History is important in this. The assassination of FRELIMO's first president, Eduardo Mondlane, in 1969 came as part of splits that nearly destroyed the party and almost ended the independence struggle. The lesson that FRELIMO learned was one expressed by Benjamin Franklin when he signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, saying: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately”. FRELIMO has taken this idea to heart in its decades of power.

Firstly, there is an attempt within FRELIMO to work by consensus or at least broad agreement even though this can lead to slow decision-making and the avoidance of divisive issues. Secondly, FRELIMO tries to remain inclusive – no-one is expelled from FRELIMO and few quit. Indeed, FRELIMO actually attempts to co-opt people who might be potential opposition figures. This is one reason a serious opposition has never developed in Mozambique, but it also means that rogues and scoundrels remain inside the party.

Party rules

FRELIMO has developed a party structure which looks very similar to that of European parties, with local party offices and grassroots activists providing social services and getting out the vote. On occasion, it resembles American Democratic Party machines like Tammany Hall of New York City in the first half of the 20th century, handing out jobs and contracts in exchange for votes and other support.

But FRELIMO has also developed a substantial internal democracy, with sets of rules which ensure representation. All FRELIMO bodies have quotas – for women (35%), new members (40%), for the Political Commission, Central Committee and war veterans (10%), young adults (20%) and business people for the Central Committee. Two-thirds of the Central Committee and party congress delegates are elected at the provincial level and the remaining third – largely national figures – were elected at the Congress.

The Congress elects key party figures – such as the president and secretary general – and the remaining third of the 190-member Central Committee. The Central Committee then elects the 17-member Political Commission, which is the most powerful FRELIMO body, meeting fortnightly to make key decisions. The Central Committee will choose the nation’s 2014 presidential candidate.

Bending the rules

The nature of the balance between the party and leaders was revealed after the 1999 election, which President Joaquim Chissano nearly lost as a result of corruption-related complaints from both the party and state. The constitution had already been changed to limit future presidents to two five-year terms, but Chissano could stand again in 2004 and wanted to do so. The party rejected this, however, fearing he would lose the election, and named Armando Guebuza as their Secretary-General and national presidential candidate for 2004. Although snubbed, Chissano remained within the party and campaigned for Guebuza for the sake of unity.

Guebuza was duly elected in 2004, but he was not free to choose his own cabinet. There was a two-day Political Commission meeting to negotiate the new ministers, and Guebuza's first two choices for justice minister were rejected.

Guebuza gained power and was easily re-elected in 2009. Then he made it known that he would like to amend the constitution to allow himself a third term. After much debate, the party rejected this on the grounds that younger members of the party – those too young to have fought in the liberation war – felt it was their turn to rule.

Guebuza and his allies looked for an alternative situation, not unlike the strategy used by Dmitry Medvedev and the more powerful Vladimir Putin in Russia. Since the party would not allow constitutional changes to create a powerful prime minister, Guebuza settled on remaining the FRELIMO party president, and thus head of the Political Commission. Although he aimed to elevate the relatively weak Prime Minister Aires Ali to be national president, the new Central Committee meeting in Pemba following the Congress did not re-elect Aires Ali to its Political Commission.

A changing of the old guard

The Central Committee also failed to re-elect Aiuba Cuereneia, the development minister and Guebuza ally, and did not elect as a new member Edson Macuacua, who had been party secretary for mobilisation, but was criticised by progressives within the party for trying to control the media. Former Prime Minister Luisa Diogo, frequently named as the most likely anti-Guebuza candidate for president in 2014, was also not re-elected to the Political Commission.

Central Committee elections also showed some surprises. Two people who were elected with a high proportion of votes were former Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi, known for his anti-Guebuza views, and Eneas Comiche, a respected former mayor of Maputo not selected to stand again in 2008’s local elections by party hacks who felt side-lined. Both individuals’ elections were widely seen as reflecting a view inside the party that the elite were building up too much wealth and power.

Antonio Sumbane, Minister in the President's office and a close friend of Guebuza, was also not re-elected. On the other hand, Guebuza's daughter Valentina was elected to the Central Committee.

Armando Guebuza remains the most powerful man in Mozambique. But the FRELIMO party made clear that his power is checked. Indeed, the Congress showed the party setting limits on the political and economic power of the elites.

The Central Committee will choose a presidential candidate next year, and it is clear that Guebuza will retain considerable power. Yet since the Putin-Medvedev option has been rejected, the new national president's power will be at least equal to Guebuza's.

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