MAPUTO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Mozambique is due to hold presidential, provincial and legislative elections on Tuesday, two months after the country’s two largest parties signed a peace deal that put a formal end to decades of violence.
The governing Frelimo party is expected to maintain its near 45-year hold on power. A smaller party - the Mozambique Democratic Movement - could however attract voters away from both Frelimo and the main opposition Renamo in some areas.
Here are some of the key issues in one of the world’s least-developed nations as it heads to the polls.
Mozambique is set to become a top global gas exporter thanks to projects being led by Total and Exxon Mobil Corp in its extreme north, home to one of the biggest offshore gas finds in a decade.
With investments expected to total about $50 billion - more than four times Mozambique’s current GDP - the projects have the potential to lift millions out of poverty.
A promise to develop the reserves has formed a big part of President Filipe Nyusi’s campaign.
But many question whether ordinary citizens will benefit in a country with a history of corruption and weak institutions. Grinding poverty in the Cabo Delgado region has helped fuel a nascent Islamist insurgency there that has complicated efforts to tap the gas.
Hundreds have been killed in attacks on villages in the gas-rich region, a Frelimo stronghold. People have been beheaded and houses torched, and thousands have fled.
However, relatively little is known about the militants. At the forefront of the insurgency is thought to be a group that, similar to Boko Haram in Nigeria, touts a radical form of Islam as an antidote to what it regards as a corrupt, elitist rule.
Attacks have increased in the run-up to the vote, making campaigning impossible in some districts, said Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado.
The government has responded by stepping up security but its reputation has taken a hit among voters.
Frelimo has governed Mozambique since independence in 1975.
It fought a 16-year civil war against former guerrilla movement Renamo that killed around 1 million people before a truce put an end to the worst of the bloodshed in 1992. However, violence has flared in the years since, particularly around election time.
Leaders of both parties were eager to seal the deal in a bid to win over a populace fatigued by seemingly endless rounds of hostilities and peace negotiations.
However, a breakaway faction of Renamo fighters that disputes some aspects of the accord has been staging attacks in the group’s traditional central strongholds, demanding that party leader Ossufo Momade resign and the election be postponed.
Mozambique is also battling to recover from a debt crisis after it revealed more than $1 billion in previously undisclosed lending to state-run firms in 2016.
The discovery of the loans, all guaranteed by the government, prompted the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and a sovereign debt default.
The money was ostensibly raised to develop shipyards, maritime security and a tuna fishing venture, but U.S. authorities say the project was a front for a money-laundering scheme.
Senior Frelimo politicians and associates, including a former finance minister and the ex-president’s son and advisor, have been charged for alleged involvement, tarnishing the party’s image.
Nyusi, who is running for a second term, was defence minister at the time of the looting. He has denied any wrongdoing and touted the arrests as a sign of his government’s commitment to cleaning up corruption.
Two devastating storms slammed into Mozambique in less than two months this year, killing hundreds and wreaking destruction across central and northern regions.
Cyclone Idai flattened the port city of Beira in March before moving inland and causing deadly floods. The central provinces impacted are historically part of Renamo’s support base.
Six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth battered coastal provinces in the extreme, pro-Frelimo north.
Researchers say the two storms have left some poor Mozambicans without the voter cards or identity documents they will need to cast ballots.
Opposition parties have accused the government of not doing enough to assist affected people, while parliament has set up a commission to investigate claims that some emergency aid was diverted for party political purposes. Frelimo denied the allegations. (Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and John Stonestreet)