Four more MPLA years
Africa Confidential – 07/09/2012
The Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola won the general elections with 72% of the vote after spending more than US$75 million on its campaign. The opposition, which took around a quarter of the votes on 31 August, is convinced fraud is the real reason for the ruling party’s success. The main opposition party, the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, claims the MPLA stuffed ballot boxes and wielded undue influence with the Comissão Nacional Eleitoral (CNE, National Electoral Commission, AC Vol 53 No 17, The MPLA plans a landslide). UNITA polled just under 19%, nearly doubling its tally from 2008.
For months, UNITA has accused its rival of preparing to fix the polls. It claims the government deployed undercover security officers to staff polling stations. In opposition strongholds, especially Benguela, Cabinda and Huambo provinces, many stations opened late. On 25 August, less than a week before the vote, UNITA staged a mass rally in Luanda, drawing an estimated 5,000 people to call for free and fair elections. Less than twelve hours before polling began, its leader, Brigadier Isaías Samakuva, demanded a meeting with President José Eduardo dos Santos and urged that polling be delayed. His requests fell on deaf ears.
As UNITA had predicted, some voters had problems finding their names on the electoral register and some were told they ought to be voting several hundred kilometres away in a different province. This may have been one factor in the big fall in turnout, down from 80% in 2008 to around 60%. Some analysts think the low turnout suspicious, both because this was only the third election in 37 years and because UNITA’s leadership had presented itself far more effectively than in 2008. UNITA officials claim also that many of them were not given or were refused accreditation to monitor the vote and count.
Staff from local diplomatic missions were thwarted in their attempts to observe the polls. The British Embassy, we hear, had applied for 15 authorisations but the night before polling received only three, all for the remote Lunda Norte Province, to which a last-minute trip was not feasible.
Applause from the USA
United States diplomats also struggled to get credentials. Yet on 5 September, the US State Department issued a statement applauding the parties for ‘their civic engagement’ in the elections while urging the government to ‘investigate and address promptly all electoral complaints’. Many in the MPLA will take the statement as a de facto endorsement of their victory. There were observers from the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, Great Lakes, the union of Lusophone countries and the Economic Community of West African States, all of which gave the elections a clean bill of health.
A victory celebration – held under the guise of a belated 70th birthday party for Dos Santos, whose birthday days earlier had been an unexpectedly muted affair – was convened on 1 September, even though less than two-thirds of the results were in. The sound systems pumped on into the night at the vast pink presidential palace as the great and good of Luanda raised their glasses.
Samakuva greeted the result quietly, save for a statement late on 3 September to say UNITA was running a parallel count and considering its options. The final results are due around 15 September and UNITA is expected to mount a legal challenge. Its splinter party, the Convergência Ampla da Salvação de Angola-Coligação Eleitoral, led by Abel Chivukuvuku, won an impressive 6% of the vote despite forming only in March. CASA-CE, too, will probably submit a complaint to the Constitutional Court from which little is expected. Its judges were chosen by Dos Santos himself.
Although there is some outrage among civil society groups, resignation is the dominant mood among the MPLA’s opponents. Few believed the opposition could have won anyway. All eyes now turn to whom Dos Santos will pick for his cabinet and whether, as predicted, he will hand over responsibilities – and ultimately the presidency – to his new deputy, Manuel Vicente, former head of the state oil giant Sonangol and heir apparent.