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FRELIMO - Political Party

The transitional government took office in late September 1974 under Joaquim Alberto Chissano as prime minister. Chissano was one of three central figures in FRELIMO and had been its secretary of defense and security. Machel and dos Santos, the party's vice president and chief political theoretician, stayed outside the government. Machel also stayed out of the country, remaining aloof from the compromises that had to be made during the transition.

The efforts of anti-FRELIMO elements culminated prematurely in a disorganized attempt to seize power in September 1974. But when rioting began in the black suburbs, reportedly after armed attacks on blacks by white youth groups, Portuguese and FRELIMO security forces intervened to crush the riots and the coup. This was the effective end of organized opposition to FRELIMO rule by either blacks or whites. It also signaled the beginning of the exodus of whites from the country. Most of them went back to Portugal, emigrated to Brazil, or sought to settle in South Africa or Southern Rhodesia. By June 1975 the country's white population had declined from about 200,000 to an estimated 40,000. The leaders of FRELIMO's other black opponents had few places to flee, and by the end of 1974 most had been arrested and imprisoned by FRELIMO.

Before the end of 1974 FRELIMO appointees, in addition to their ministerial posts, held the governorships of half the country's districts and had replaced most of the mayors. Two of the country's six newspapers were handed over to FRELIMO. With the help of the remaining Portuguese forces the transitional government put a lid on public demonstrations of opposition or discontent. Strikes over economic issues were brought rapidly to an end, and it was made plain that no political activity outside FRELIMO's direct control would be tolerated.

In 1984 the governments of South Africa and Mozambique signed the Nkomati Accord, committing their countries to the cessation of hostilities. Despite the ensuing reduction in external support of RENAMO, the civil war continued. In 1986 President Machel was killed in a plane crash and was succeeded by Joaquim Chissano. An estimated 1 million people died during the war.

In 1989 FRELIMO officially abandoned Marxist-Leninism under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank to make a structural readjustment and open up to a market economy. In 1990 direct talks began between the government and RENAMO. Negotiations were proceeding slowly when, in 1992, Mozambique suffered its worst drought in the 20th century. The government and RENAMO subsequently agreed on principles for humanitarian assistance while pledging security for relief operations. A formal ceasefire went into effect on October 4, 1992, and a U.N. peacekeeping force oversaw a successful two-year transition to multiparty elections.

The party followed a Soviet-style system of having a series of increasingly larger groups of members, from the micro local-level cell all the way up to national representatives. The party describes this system as democratic because each level votes on a member to represent it at the next highest level. In FRELIMO, the smallest party level is a 15 person cell. Cells nominate representatives to the next larger 20-30 person circles, who in turn nominate representatives to the 30-40 member zones, 40-50 member districts, and finally to the 70-80 person committees at the provincial level. These members then hold a secret vote to determine who will represent FRELIMO in the National Assembly.

Mozambique's first multi-party election was held in 1994 following single-party rule since independence from Portugal in 1975. Of 250 seats available in the parliamentary elections, FRELIMO took 129 in that first election. In 1999, FRELIMO increased its total in the National Assembly to 133, and in 2004 took 160 seats. Despite the appearance of a multi-party state, in practice Mozambique is controlled by an oligarchy within the ruling RELIMO party. By 2005 it was increasingly difficult to find work without being a FRELIMO member (getting a government job without FRELIMO membership was "impossible").

President Guebuza was aggressively promoting the influence of the ruling party FRELIMO since taking office. Increasing assertiveness by FRELIMO originated with the shock the party received when it nearly lost the 1999 general election (which some observers believe RENAMO actually won). Once the votes were tallied and President Chissano safely re-elected, the FRELIMO core leadership held a series of urgent meetings to discuss how to restore the party's appeal. At stake was not just FRELIMO,s political power but, more importantly for many, the wealth senior party officials had accumulated, both of which risked being lost by a RENAMO takeover. Discussions in party corridors focused on the need for new leadership that would reactivate party cells throughout the country, expand membership rolls, restore faith in the party, and above all remove any prospect of a RENAMO victory for the foreseeable future. The demand for new leadership accelerated with the embarrassing involvement of Nympine Chissano, the son of then-president Joaquim Chissano, in the murder trial of those responsible for killing investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso in 2000.

To revive FRELIMO, party officials convinced President Chissano not to run again and chose Guebuza in an extraordinary Central Committee meeting in 2002, two years prior to the 2004 elections. Although the FRELIMO elite were openly nervous about the outcome of the 2004 elections, they needn't have worried. In the end, many RENAMO supporters stayed home (partly owing to the fact that RENAMO leader Dhlakama hardly campaigned at all and partly from disillusionment with the 1999 loss), enabling Guebuza and FRELIMO to garner over 60 percent of the votes.

The strategic planning and use of State funds by FRELIMO to secure an ever-stronger voter base resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling party in the 19 November 2008 municipal elections, and a confirmation of absolute control within Mozambique. This would be a continuation of a worrying trend in sub-Saharan Africa of dominant one-party or virtual one-party systems which have very few checks and balances; environments which often allow corruption to flourish.

In March 2015 Mozambique’s former president, Armando Guebuza, who didn’t run in October’s election due to term limits, quit as Frelimo party leader. His resignation brought to a sudden end a months-long power struggle between Guebuza and the new president, Frelimo’s Filipe Nyusi. Guebuza’s resignation cleared the way for the only candidate for party chairman, Nyusi. In taking the helm of the country and the party, Nyusi is following an established path in modern Mozambique. All of the nation’s post-independence presidents had simultaneously been Frelimo leader.

FRELIMO believes most Mozambican people are satisfied with its role in government because of success in improving hospitals, schools and infrastructure. While the argument that FRELIMO shows strong democratic values by holding frequent party elections is interesting, it misses the point that competitive, multi-party elections are an important benchmark for democracy. The strong and centralized FRELIMO continues to dominate Mozambican politics, and is using all advantages of the incumbency, including donor-funded programs, to consolidate power.

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Page last modified: 11-08-2017 18:50:48 ZULU