Mozambique holds poll, Guebuza expected to win

Supporters of Mozambique's President Armando Guebuza's ruling FRELIMO party distribute pamphlets in Maputo, on the last day of campaigning, October 25, 2009. REUTERS

MAPUTO, Wednesday (Reuters) - Voting began in Mozambique's presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections on Wednesday that are expected to return President Armando Guebuza to power on promises to attract more foreign investment.

The millionaire businessman and his ruling Frelimo party are not expected to face any serious challenge from the opposition in a country with tourist potential and untapped mineral and energy resources that have started to draw foreign companies and investors, particularly from neighbouring South Africa.

Long lines formed at polling stations. Just under half the population of 22.9 million are registered to vote. Full official results are not due until November 12.

The Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), a splinter of Renamo, a former rebel movement and now the main opposition, had been seen running Guebuza close until many of its candidates were barred from the contest due to registration irregularities.

Guebuza, running on a "Force of Change" ticket, faces only two challengers -- Renamo head Afonso Dhlakama and MDM leader Davis Simango.

Dhlakama, who led a 16-year guerrilla war against Frelimo, is also trying to court the foreign capital that helped the agriculture-dependent economy grow more than 6 percent last year. Expansion is forecast at 4.5 percent for 2009.

Analysts expect Guebuza to retain his presidential seat and Frelimo to win a majority but not the two-thirds that would allow it to change the constitution.

"It's quite clear that he will win but I don't expect him to get an absolute majority in parliament because most of the voters were neither born during the liberation struggle nor the devastating 16-year war against Renamo," said political analyst Gil Laureciano.

"They don't care about what happened in the past, so they will be voting for better job opportunities, for quality education and housing."

Economic reforms

Despite being one of Africa's poorest countries, Mozambique has growing economic potential.

A serious figure who rarely smiles, Guebuza made his fortune in the energy, transport and port industries.

"We want investment laws which are simple. We are going to reduce high levels of corruption in the state departments where investors face excessive bureaucracy," he told thousands of supporters at a rally.

"We will continue with the liberalisation of the market, exempt tax in industrial free zones, decentralise management of state funds to district levels, including the decentralisation of import and export mechanisms."

Nearly 30 parties registered for the poll, but the election commission allowed candidates from only 19 to run. Only Frelimo and Renamo have been allowed to contest every constituency for the 250 seats in parliament.

Frelimo, which has ruled the former Portuguese colony since elections in 1994 marked the end of a 16-year civil war, won 160 seats in parliament in 2004, while Guebuza notched up 64 percent of the popular vote.