IN what international observers called a great success for Africa, an estimated 90 percent of voters participated in Mozambique's first democratic elections, overcoming a 75 percent illiteracy rate, logistical problems, and a short-lived boycott by the main opposition movement.
``The people of Mozambique provided us a lesson in democracy,'' said Italian clergyman Don Mateo Zuppi. ``This process was a great sign for the rest of Africa.'' Mr. Zuppi helped negotiate 1992 peace accords that ended 16 years of civil war between the rebel Mozambique National Resistance Movement, or Renamo, and the Mozambique Liberation Front, or Frelimo.
Final results of the Oct. 27-29 poll are not expected for two weeks, but early returns from one pro-government region showed overwhelming victory for President Joaquim Chissano of Frelimo.
Polling station monitors, some working by lantern light, toiled through the night to sift through piles of ballot papers after three days of voting ended at 6 p.m. Saturday.
``This is one of the most orderly, methodical elections I have ever seen in Africa,'' said British politician David Steel, an observer from the Association of European Parliamentarians for Southern Africa.
Hours before the polls opened, Renamo's Afonso Dhlakama announced he was boycotting, raising fears throughout the region that the country might go the way of Angola, another former Portuguese colony where rebels resumed a devastating civil war after rejecting defeat in UN-monitored elections in 1992.
Election monitors across Mozambique said only a trickle of people voted on the extra day declared by the National Electoral Commission after Mr. Dhlakama ended his boycott under international pressure.
``My hope is that the worst is over and that our elections will produce a government acceptable to the people, which is stable and is able to consolidate peace and reconciliation,'' said Roman Catholic Archbishop Jaime Goncaleves, in Renamo's stronghold of Beira. ``I hope we don't have war again.''
Dhlakama relented Friday after veiled threats of military intervention by neighboring countries and guarantees that the international community would investigate claims of electoral fraud.
Tough negotiations lie ahead over the possibility of Renamo and Frelimo forming a government of national unity.