The Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) is leading with 77% in the capital Maputo, on the basis of 35% of results tallied so far, the electoral body announced late Saturday, while state television said yesterday that the opposition was well placed to win in three strategic locations.
In Maputo, the opposition Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) - participating for the first time in municipal elections since independence from Portugal in 1975 - is trailing behind with 13% of the votes.
The Juntos Pela Cidade party, Portuguese for "Together for the City", headed by Swiss-born Philippe Gagnaux, has secured seven% of the vote in the capital so far.
Renamo was among more than 15 political parties and about 80 candidates in the running in the southeast African country in the vote held last Wednesday.
The former rebel group waged a 16-year civil war against Frelimo, but a 1992 peace deal saw it transformed into a political party.
Renamo however boycotted the first local polling in 1998, accusing the government of fraud.
That resulted in a turnout of just 14,4% and a landslide victory for Frelimo.
The Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) said Frelimo was far ahead in southern Mozambique, while results from the northern city of Beira, where Renamo is more popular, were still to be released.
Frelimo traditionally enjoys strong support in the south, including the capital Maputo, while Renamo is more popular in the less developed and poorer rural areas.
But Frelimo is also leading in most of northern Mozambique, leaving Renamo dominant in just three key races.
State television said Renamo looked certain to win in the port cities of Nacala and Angoche and Ilha de Mocambique, an island and Unesco World Heritage site off Nampula province.
TVM said Renamo is so far leading comfortably in Nacala with more than 5 000 votes ahead of the ruling party.
The former rebels are also leading by 1 000 votes in Ilha de Mocambique, and 2 500 votes in Angoche, TVM said.
In central Mozambique, where support for the two main contenders is divided, Frelimo is ahead with an average of 65%.
Nacala has one of most important ports in Mozambique and southern Africa, which serves mainly landlocked Malawi and Zambia, while Ilha de Mocambique, once Mozambique's capital, is a prime tourist resort.
Mozambique is dependent on foreign investment and aid, which makes up 50% of the annual budget.
It had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world in the late 1990s, but fell victim to disastrous flooding in 2000 and 2001, which left hundreds dead and devastated agriculture and homes.
The country nevertheless achieved eight per cent growth in 2002, but now grapples with high Aids rates and unemployment.
The results of the local elections will provide preliminary clues to the outcome of a presidential election next year, which is expected to be a tight race between Frelimo, Renamo and a newly registered opposition formation, the Peace, Democracy and Development Party, initiated by a popular former Renamo leader, Raul Domingos.
This year's municipal elections are taking place mainly in cities and in ten rural centres, thus excluding the majority of the 17-million population.
The government has decided to gradually create separate rural councils in areas currently ruled by officials appointed by Maputo.
European Union observers have declared the local polling free and fair, but have warned that a low voter turnout was a matter of concern ahead of next year's presidential vote.
By law, results must be published within 15 days of polling. – Sapa-AFP.