MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — Observer missions declared Mozambique's national election free and fair as votes continued to be counted on Friday.
The ruling party candidate in the southern African country was leading in early returns, officials said.
Felipe Nyusi, Mozambique's defense minister and the Frelimo party candidate, had 63 percent of the vote after counts at almost a quarter of 17,000 polling stations, according to results released Thursday night. Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the main opposition party known as Renamo, was second with nearly 30 percent of the vote, the returns showed.
Daviz Simango, leader of a newer party called the Mozambique Democratic Movement, was third with 7.5 percent.
Mozambique voted Wednesday in an election that was closely watched by foreign investors who see prospects in the discovery of large gas and coal reserves in the country, which had been devastated by civil war that broke out between Frelimo and Renamo after independence from Portugal in the 1970s. The two parties signed a peace deal in 1992 and have competed against each other as political parties since.
The European Union described voting and the counting process as "well organized", welcoming recently instituted reforms to ensure a fair election in a preliminary statement released before the final results are announced.
The Southern African Development Community Electoral Observer Mission, representing 15 member states, also declared the elections "generally peaceful" and "credible", reflecting the will of the people.
During voting, opposition party Renamo alleged that party officials had intercepted a ballot box stuffed with votes already marked in favor of Nyusi. The Commonwealth Observer Mission urged Renamo to file a formal complaint, saying that the elections had taken place in a peaceful environment.
Tensions and sporadic violence erupted again in the past couple of years between Renamo and Frelimo supporters, but the election was largely peaceful despite scattered allegations of vote-rigging. Observer missions said these incidents had not disrupted the election.
Nyusi was a relatively unknown figure in politics, but he had won a highly contested party election thanks to the backing of outgoing President Armando Guebuza and wealthy businessmen from the recently enriched north of the country, where Nyusi was born.
Chutel reported from Johannesburg