Mozambique voted in local elections on Wednesday that could expose cracks in the country's peace process by fuelling tensions between the ruling Frelimo party and the Renamo opposition.
Renamo alleged fraud at some polling stations and said police were biased as people went to the polls after a campaign marred by allegations that Frelimo engaged in violence and intimidation.
Polling day was largely peaceful, though police fired gunshots to disperse people who said they had not been allowed to vote at three polling stations around the country.
The 13-day election campaign, which ended at the weekend, saw several clashes between rival party supporters, with Renamo supporters saying they endured intimidation and came under attack.
"The elections ... are the result of the sacrifices of all the Mozambican people," President Filipe Nyusi told reporters after voting in the capital Maputo.
Renamo, the main opposition party which has maintained an armed wing since the end of the country's civil war, was running in the municipal vote for the first time in 10 years.
In the mid-1970s, Renamo fought a brutal 16-year civil war against the Frelimo government that left one million people dead before the fighting stopped in 1992.
Fresh violence erupted in 2013 between Renamo rebels and government troops, raising fears of a return to civil war, but the party declared a truce in 2016 and opened fresh peace talks.
A crucial test
Renamo spokesman Andre Magibire alleged ballot-box stuffing in the central Zambezia province, and intimidation by the security forces.
"Renamo is concerned that cases of fraud occur at a time when we are seeking peace and national reconciliation," he said.
"The police must stop working for Frelimo."
Renamo has been hoping for a breakthrough in the local polls ahead of next year's general election.
EXX risk consultancy, which is based in London, said such "landmark local elections" would "test the success of decentralisation measures agreed with the armed opposition and will act as an important political bellwether."
But the fact that so much was at stake had heightened tensions around the vote.
"The rewards at hand have rendered the political climate in Mozambique both tense and volatile, as highlighted by a series of violent incidents in the pre-election period."
The results are due out on Thursday.
The day started out with early queues at many polling stations, but they had long disappeared before voting closed.
"I arrived at 5:00 am and only managed to vote at 9:00 am," said Ana Beatriz, a voter in Maputo.
"The queues were disorganised but I am happy to have been able to exercise my right to vote."
The vote was held in Mozambique's 53 municipalities, 49 of which are currently governed by Frelimo.
The four other municipalities -- among them the cities of Beira, Nampula and Quelimane -- were won by the second opposition MDM party in the last elections.
Parliament approved new electoral laws in July that means that a simple or relative majority is sufficient for a candidate to win election.
Previously, an absolute majority of over 50 percent of votes was needed. The new laws could split the opposition vote.
President Nyusi and Renamo's acting leader Ossufo Momade have recently made progress a key sticking point in the peace talks -- the disarmament and integration of former Renamo rebels into the police and army.
As well as the internal political tensions, Mozambique has been rocked over the last year by the emergence of an Islamist insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, which has rich offshore gas deposits.
Despite a security crackdown, scores of civilians and police have been killed attacks by suspected jihadists in the northern coastal region.Read Full Story