MAPUTO - Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo party said it picked regional governor Daniel Chapo, 47, as its candidate for the October 9 presidential election to succeed the outgoing President Filipe Nyusi.

Daniel Chapo is now the new leader to succeed President Filipe Nyusi after October 9 elections.

The party, known by its Portuguese acronym Frelimo, made the decision on Sunday following a three-day meeting of its central committee near Maputo, the capital, Catarina Dimande, a member of the panel, announced on state television. Its pick comes as a surprise as Chapo has never served in the national cabinet and his name didn’t feature on most lists of potential winning candidates.

“Chapo demonstrated that he is committed to the party and the country,” Nyusi said in a speech, in which he committed to stepping down after the election. “The soap opera of speculation ends, including speculation about a third term.”

A law graduate and former radio announcer, Chapo, 47, was appointed governor of the central Inhambane province in 2016. Before that, he taught constitutional law and political sciences.

Gas Bonanza

Chapo, who garnered 221 votes, or 94% of those cast in a second round of balloting, takes over Frelimo’s leadership at a critical juncture in Mozambique’s history.

The nation is anticipating TotalEnergies SE’s imminent return to a $20-billion-plus natural gas project it paused three years ago after militants staged attacks nearby.

The revival of TotalEnergies’ plan is crucial for a nation that’s among the poorest in the world.

Nyusi has led Frelimo for the past decade and spent much of his two terms as president dealing with the fallout of scandal that erupted when the government admitted that it had failed to disclose debts of about $1.2 billion. He also sought to cut a peace deal with the main opposition party, known as Renamo, but while he was focused on demilitarizing Frelimo’s old political foe, a new threat took hold in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province.

Attacks by a group that affiliated itself with Islamic State began in 2017 and rapidly escalated, ultimately derailing the gas project — Africa’s biggest private investment at the time. Mozambique’s military struggled to assert control and maintain the trust of communities.

After a major strike in March 2021 prompted Total’s consortium to evacuate its staff and declare force majeure on the project, Nyusi reached a deal with Rwandan President Paul Kagame to send hundreds of soldiers to help restore order. He later agreed to accept other troops from the Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc. While the interventions were initially successful, the militants have escalated attacks this year.

Containing the violence and convincing the gas developers that it’s safe to resume work will be a key priority for Chapo.

Renamo is scheduled to hold its own internal elections this month. Ossufo Momade, its current president, has faced internal criticism of his leadership. He got 21.5% of the national vote in 2019, compared with Nyusi’s 73%.