Lawmakers in Mozambique Reject Autonomy Plan for Six Provinces

Mozambique’s parliament on Thursday threw out a proposal to grant autonomy to six of the country’s 11 provinces, an outcome which the main opposition party warned could lead to a return to civil war.

The proposed law was introduced by the Mozambican National Resistance, or Renamo, the main opposition party since the end of a civil war that it waged against the government from 1976 to 1992. The ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, or Frelimo, used its majority in parliament to vote down the proposal, which it argued violated the constitution.

Renamo, led by Afonso Dhlakama, has lost every presidential and parliamentary election to Frelimo since the first multi-party vote in 1994, each time alleging electoral fraud. Following the last elections in October, Dhlakama said Renamo must be given the right to govern the six provinces in the north and center of the country where it polled the most votes, or it would take power there by force.

“We will let the people decide what is the next step,” Antonio Muchanga, a Renamo lawmaker and party spokesman, said in an interview at the Parliament. Asked what would happen if supporters of the autonomy plan chose war, Muchanga said: “Let’s go. Who are we to refuse what the people want?”

An increased threat of political violence in Mozambique could discourage tourism and affect the development of gas deposits that Anadarko Petroleum Corp. estimates may make the country one of the three largest exporters of liquefied natural gas in the next decade. The U.S. company and Rome-based Eni SpA have said that final decisions on whether to proceed with gas projects may be made this year.

Dhlakama has promised his supporters that Renamo would be in power in those provinces by May of this year.

Two parliamentary commissions delivered their reports on Thursday, showing that the Frelimo members of the study groups were recommending that their party colleagues vote against the proposal. Frelimo argued that Renamo’s plan is unconstitutional because it would subordinate existing authorities in cities and towns below a new level of government, a situation not covered by Mozambican law.

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