At war with one another only seven years ago, voters here concluded three days of peaceful balloting today in Mozambique's second democratic elections since the country ended 16 years of ruinous civil war.
Political analysts widely expect President Joaquim Chissano to be elected to a second term, although his party may lose control of parliament. Results are not due for several days.
But in many ways, it was the election itself--not the results--that mattered. By going to the polls peacefully and casting nearly 7 million apparently untainted ballots, voters tightened their grip on democracy and a wide-open brand of capitalism that seemed all but impossible during the long civil war that followed the country's independence from Portugal in 1975.
Now, the "Mozambique Miracle" is held up by international donors, human rights activists and diplomats as a model of all the continent can be. The nation's transformation is part of a larger success story, as Mozambique has joined four of its southern African neighbors--Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa--by installing multiparty democracies and hitching their once-isolated or socialist markets to the world's economy.
Already this year, voters in South Africa and Botswana have elected presidents and lawmakers. And election officials in Namibia announced today that voters last week overwhelmingly reelected the country's liberation hero, President Sam Nujoma, and his governing South West African People's Organization. That election was Namibia's third since its independence from South Africa.
The halting but demonstrable successes of these countries provide a stark contrast to the problems of their warring neighbors, Angola and Congo, whose civil conflicts have only deepened the misery of their long-suffering populations, as well as the disillusionment of investors and international donors.
Comparatively, foreign investment in Mozambique is surging while inflation hovers at about 1 percent. The economy expanded by 12 percent last year, and exports increased 8 percent. Tourists are pouring into the port city of Maputo for scuba diving and boating in the Indian Ocean, and the hum of jackhammers, power drills and road crews are signs of a country that is resurrecting itself.
Very little of Mozambique's economic revitalization has trickled down to ordinary people, however, and the government's free market reforms and efforts to privatize state-owned enterprises have strained relations with trade unions. Nearly 60 percent of the population lives on less than a $1 a day. Only about 44 percent of people are literate, and public hospitals and clinics are so overwhelmed that only about 15 percent of the population receives any regular health care, according to UNICEF.
"Things are much better for the tourists and the wealthy," said Bernardo Kumala, a local street peddler. "But most people have seen very little in the way of improvements. We are still poor people."
The Mozambique National Resistance party, known by its Portuguese acronym RENAMO, tried in its campaigning to capitalize on the governing party's weak record delivering services to poor people. RENAMO's presidential candidate, Afonso Dhlakama, ridiculed the campaign slogan of the ruling party: "For a better future."
"People aren't interested in a better future," Dhlakama said repeatedly in stump speeches, denouncing his former civil war rivals. "They want a better today."
Political analysts here said that while the strategy was unlikely to unseat the popular Chissano, it may well catapult RENAMO into the driver's seat in the 250-member parliament. The governing party, FRELIMO, or the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, currently holds a 55 percent majority.
Whatever the results, few believe that a resumption of war is even a possibility. Dhlakama has said that he will accept the electorate's decision, and perhaps more importantly, Mozambique is exhausted by war. The government had anticipated building an army of about 30,000 men after the 1992 cease-fire but has only managed to put together a militia with a third of that number. No more would volunteer.
"Things are bad here," said Joaquim Cherinda, a hotel worker. "But people remember what it was like during the war. Things are much better than they were then, and I think that people have faith that the government will ultimately dig us out of this hole. I think people have hope now that things will get better."
More than 300 international observers, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, were in Mozambique to monitor the elections. Despite RENAMO's allegations of vote tampering--and displeasure that voting was extended one day after bad weather delayed polling at some stations--monitors said the elections were generally free and fair.
CAPTION: An election worker, right, in Maputo examines a voter's hands for ink to check if she has already cast her ballot in Mozambique's second democratic election since the end of civil war seven years ago.