By James Tasamba
MAPUTO, Mozambique (AA) - Mozambicans began casting votes in presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections, according to country's National Electoral Commission on Tuesday.
Some 13 million voters were registered to cast ballots in a tense exercise where the ruling Frelimo party is expected to return to power.
Incumbent President Felipe Nyusi voted as polls opened and is expected to win a second term in a vote -- seen as a test to the peace deal signed in August between the government and the opposition Renamo rebels.
Nyusi cautioned Mozambicans against violence.
The main opposition Renamo’s candidate and new leader Ossufo Momade has called on supporters to turn up massively in the election, in comments aired by national broadcaster TVM.
He appealed to Nyusi and security forces to "respect the popular vote," citing a peace deal signed in August, local media reported.
"We want democracy, we want peace," Momade said.
Another opposition presidential candidate is Daviz Simango of Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) -- the mayor of Beira city -- which was hit by the devastating Cyclone Idai earlier this year.
Vote counting is set to start after polls close at 6 p.m. local time with preliminary results expected on Wednesday.
Full provisional results will be announced before the end of the week.
And a runoff will be held if no presidential candidate garners a majority of the vote.
Insecurity and political tensions will keep some people from the polls, according to local media.
Some 10 polling centers will not open in northernmost Cabo Delgado province after the National Elections Commission of Mozambique said it could not guarantee safety from attacks by shadowy militants. It means 5,400 voters will not be able to vote.
The insurgents in the north have reportedly killed more than 400 people in the past two years.
The voters will also be electing provincial governors for the country’s 11 provinces -- unlike previously when all governors were appointed by the ruling party.
This was a key concession in the peace deal.
The ruling Frelimo has governed the southern Africa country since it acquired independence from Portugal in 1975.
Parties’ acceptance of the election results could test a peace deal that ended years of sporadic violence that followed a 15-year civil war in which an estimated 1 million people died, analysts say.
Nyusi campaigned on the $25 billion Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas project, part of efforts to tap substantial deposits of natural gas --though his first term was overshadowed by insurgency and graft scandal.
With a population of nearly 30 million people, hundreds of thousands of people are still recovering from two devastating cyclones which hit the country this year.
The African Union (AU) on Sunday said former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is leading the AU Election Observation Mission (AUEOM).
The former Nigerian President is leading a 44-member AU election observers' mission to Mozambique -- composed of ambassadors from the union's Permanent Representatives' Committee, parliamentarians from the Pan-African Parliament, election administrators, civil society, media and electoral experts, according to a statement.
"The deployment of an AUEOM to Mozambique demonstrates the AU's commitment to supporting credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful electoral processes in its member states by providing an objective assessment of the process and the political environment surrounding it," the statement said.