Maputo - Mozambique's ruling Frelimo party has given no clear sign of who will be its candidate at the next national presidential vote due in two years after wrapping up its conference.
Although the choice of a presidential candidate was not on the agenda of the Frelimo congress that ended Friday, the succession race was an unavoidable subtext.
President Armando Guebuza is legally not eligible for another term as he is serving his second and final tenure.
But two leading politicians that had been tipped as the party's most likely future presidential candidates, failed to secure places on the ruling party's supreme decision making body - a key step and unwritten requirement to the country's top job.
Luisa Diogo, a former premier and World Bank official, was seen as one of the party's options for a presidential nominee, but she crashed out of the ranks of the Frelimo's 15-strong politburo.
Her successor, Prime Minister Aires Ali, also considered Guebuza's favoured candidate, did not make the list either.
Guebuza has repeatedly stated he will not attempt to seek to go beyond the two mandates allowed by the constitution of the south-eastern African country, which is poised on the brink of a coal and gas-driven boom.
It would be difficult, though not impossible, for any presidential aspirant to gain enough support from Frelimo heavyweights, from outside the politburo, observers say.
“Most of the main candidates were knocked out. We are really starting again so there will be a lot of jockeying for power over the next six months,” said London-based writer on Mozambique Joseph Hanlon.
Names that now top the politburo ranks include Frelimo's secretary general Filipe Paunde, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco and parliamentary speaker Veronica Macamo - any of whom could be catapulted into the spotlight in the run up to 2014 elections.
Whether Guebuza plans to follow the example of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and cling to power from behind the scenes after his presidential mandate ends, was a question raised when the Frelimo congress handed him another five-year term as party leader early in the week.
“It will be very interesting to see if he can pull it off,” said Hanlon who argues the ruling party is divided in many directions.
“He could not carry enough of the party to get Aires Ali elected. This shows he does not have total power,” said Hanlon.
With Ali out of the race, could Paunde be Guebuza's Medvedev? A loyal presidential ally - he stood unopposed for a second term as the second in command to the party's leader.
Paunde is now “in a very privileged position to succeed Armando Guebuza as president of the Republic,” said the independent daily, Mediafax on Friday.
The controversial election of Guebuza's daughter, Valentina, into the party's upper echelons has raised questions about whether the president is finding a way for a dynastic succession.
The 32-year-old, who heads the family business, Focus 21, was recently dubbed the “Millionaire Princess” by Forbes magazine. She took one of the 180 seats on the central committee, the party's second most powerful organ, usually reserved for former fighters of the country's independence and civil wars.
Guebuza, a 1980s ex-Marxist styled general, took power in 2005 when he was already a successful businessman. He has since expanded his empire with tentacles in media, mining, construction and fishing sectors.
Although Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries, Guebuza has presided over a seven percent annual growth rate in recent years.
Mozambique is now poised to earn billions of dollars in foreign investment over the next decade on the back of discoveries of significant coal and gas deposits. - Sapa-AFP