The Mozambique Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique—FRELIMO), the sole legal political party until 1991, was founded in 1962 by the merger of three existing nationalist parties. Formation of FRELIMO did not mean complete political unity. Splinter groups or organizations began to appear in Cairo, Nairobi, and elsewhere, but none of these splinter organizations ever received the support of the OAU, which gave official recognition only to FRELIMO.
In August 1973, five anti-FRELIMO groups formed the National Coalition Party (Partido de Coligação Nacional—PCN). The PCN program called for a referendum on the country's future and the restoration of peace and multiracialism. The organized opposition from the Portuguese community took the form of the Independent Front for the Continuation of Western Rule (Frente Independente de Continuidade Ocidental—FICO, or "I stay"). FICO called for Portugal to continue the war against FRELIMO. In fact, however, the Portuguese government chose to recognize FRELIMO. After the formation of a provisional FRELIMO government in September 1974, the PCN was dissolved and its leaders detained.
Two years after independence, in 1977, FRELIMO was transformed from a liberation movement into a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party dedicated to the creation of a Socialist state. It formally downgraded its ideological commitment at its July 1989 congress. Proposals to broaden party membership and decision making were also adopted. The new constitution in force in November 1990 legalized a multi-party system. Since then, activity has been vigorous. FRELIMO and RENAMO (created in 1976 as a dissident armed force) have been most popular, the latter especially in the central regions. The Mozambican National Union (UNAMO) registered early, and there are several smaller parties, including the Democratic Party of Mozambique (PADEMO) and the Mozambique National Movement (MONAMO). They were gearing up for multi-party presidential and legislative elections in October 1994.
The elections were held on 27 October 1994, and FRELIMO took 129 seats, RENAMO, 112, and the Democratic Union, 9. FRELIMO head Chissano won the presidential election with 53% of the vote to RENAMO's Dhlakama's 33%, with the rest split among 10 candidates.
By 1996, Mozambique had nearly two dozen political parties officially registered with the state. In addition to FRELIMO and RENAMO, the Democratic Union, a coalition of three smaller parties, was founded in 1994. UNAMO, a splinter from RENAMO, ran a strong presidential race, and the Liberal Democrats won almost 2% of the votes in the legislative elections.
In the presidential elections held in December 1999, Dhlakama lost again to Chissano, but gained 14-points over 1994. In the legislative polls RENAMO's 38.81% was only a slight improvement over 37.7% in 1994. This translated to 133 parliamentary seats against 117 for RENAMO in the 250-seat assembly. In September 2000, Renamo-UE member Raul DOMINGOS was expelled from the party, but he continues to hold his parliamentary seat as an independent. In mid-2002 FRELIMO announced that Armando Guebuza would be its candidate in the 2004 elections following Chissano's announcement earlier that he would not stand for a third term.
Chissano and Dhlakama met a number of times over 2001– 2002 to discuss RENAMO's claim that the 1999 elections were rigged. RENAMO threatened to form a separate government in its stronghold—the six central and northern provinces. Barring this radical move, RENAMO leaders have demanded that Chissano name the governors of these provinces from among RENAMO 's ranks. Thus far, Chissano has delayed such action on constitutional grounds. RENAMO's electoral alliance with 10 small parties—the RENAMO-Electoral Union—said that its own parallel count gave Dhlakama 52% in the presidential race and the coalition 50% in the 1999 legislative polls.