MAPUTO, Mozambique - Mozambique's opposition leader of three decades says he won't seek the presidency again if defeated in elections on Wednesday, which are likely to be won by the ruling party credited with one of Africa's biggest success stories.
Afonso Dhlakama, 56, has headed Renamo since 1979, when the party was a rebel group fighting in a civil war that broke out after independence from Portugal in 1975 and lasted for 17 years, laying much of this African country to waste.
Renamo's enemy during the war, Frelimo, has won every presidential election since the first one in 1994, two years after the fighting ended. Frelimo was a Marxist guerrilla group when it fought Portuguese colonial rule and then battled Renamo, but has since adopted free-market tenets.
“If this time I lose, I'm not going to stand again,'' Dhlakama told his supporters over the weekend .
President Armando Guebuza, 66, is running for his second term, and he and his Frelimo party are expected to win the presidential, parliamentary and provincial assemblies elections.
“The country must continue to develop. We have to fight against poverty and corruption. To achieve this goal, you must vote for me,'' Guebuza said in the final days of the campaign. He declared his party has developed the infrastructure by building schools, bridges and hospitals.
Wednesday's faceoff is a repeat lineup of the December 2004 presidential elections, when Guebuza won nearly 64 percent of the vote to Dhlakama's 32 percent. Dhlakama's best showing was in 1999 when he received 48 percent.
Since the end of the war, Mozambique has become admired for its political stability, economic recovery and post-conflict reconstruction. Known for its friendly people, excellent seafood and long palm-lined white beaches, the aluminum-exporting country has attracted private investors and is also developing a strong tourist market. A number of hotels have been built in the capital Maputo and on an archipelago of islands.
Yet the country remains one of the poorest in the world, with many of its people living in thatch huts.
The government has aggressively pursued economic reforms that have delivered growth rates as high as 10 percent per year, making it the world's fastest-growing economy at one point.
GDP grew by 7 percent in the first six months of 2009 but the effects of the global financial crisis are starting to show. Mozambican exports fell from $543 million in 2008 to $348 million this year. Officials said a collapse in the price of aluminum is to blame.
Hania Farhan, director of research for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that awards prizes for good governance in Africa, said the key to Mozambique's future is for leaders to stay on track with economic reforms and social development.
"They are very aware of how absolutely destroyed the infrastructure was, the economy, how the people were brutalized by the war,'' Farhan said.
Nineteen parties are taking part in Wednesday's elections. Results are expected Nov. 1.
(AP writer Celean Jacobson reported from Johannesburg.)
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