Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
MPLA supporters at an election campaign rally in Benfica, on the outskirts of Luanda.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA STF
MPLA supporters at an election campaign rally in Benfica, on the outskirts of Luanda.

Pollsters predict 'crushing' MPLA win

As Angola prepares for its first election since 1992, pundits question whether years of turmoil have quelled any opposition.

JOHANNESBURG // All the superficial trappings of a democratic vote will be in place when the poverty-stricken people of oil-rich Angola go to the polls tomorrow: multiple opposition parties, vigorous campaigns and international observers. But appearance and reality are two very different things in Angola, where economic statistics, including one of the highest per-capita incomes in Africa and an economy growing at 23 per cent last year, mask glaring contrasts in a nation that confines vast wealth to a tiny elite - yacht marinas and expensive restaurants sit side-by-side with shanty towns. There is a similar divergence between form and truth in politics too, according to analysts, who also point out the contrast with southern Africa's most controversial recent election in Zimbabwe.

In that country, after doubts were raised about the first-round result and Robert Mugabe's supporters launched a campaign of violence to ensure his second-round victory, the West lined up in united condemnation, with even some African countries joining in the criticism. While violence in Angola is isolated and sporadic, analysts describe a climate of fear among the people and no one expects Eduardo dos Santos' ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) to record anything other than a crushing victory. The anticipation is that it will then be followed by business as usual, for one simple reason: oil.

Earlier this year, Angola overtook Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa's biggest producer of the black gold, and its vast reserves are the object of intense competition between Beijing and the West. Almost one-third of its production goes to China, and more than one-quarter to the United States - while Angolans themselves queue for petrol because of a shortage of refining capacity in the country itself. "Of course it could be said that it's in the international community's interests to give these elections a clean bill of health," said Richard Hewitt, a British member of the European parliament who is in Angola as part of an observer mission. "I would agree there's less scrutiny of what's going on [than in Zimbabwe]. It appears to be a massively one-sided election, not because the MPLA are trying to rig it, there's no real suggestion of that, but there's only one show in town. "They have apparently got all the money and all the media, and there appear to be serious questions about appointments to the election commission, which is supposed to be independent. "We are not talking about squads of people going through the countryside murdering people, it's more about a party that's got a complete stranglehold on the country and appears to be prepared to have a relatively clean election because they have every confidence they will win." Effectively, the poll is the first test of Mr dos Santos's popularity since he took power in 1975, when Portugal pulled out. He is now one of the world's longest-ruling leaders. Announcing the election, he declared that it would be "democratic, free and transparent". "In this competition there are no enemies, there are political opponents only, with different political programmes that will seek to attract the highest number of votes to conquer the power and exert it with legitimacy," he said. His officials have since rejected criticism by the New York-based Human Rights Watch as "offensive" interference in Angola's internal affairs, born of "hatred towards the Angolan people". The last time Angola tried to hold a vote was 16 years ago, in 1992, when the opposition National Unity for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) party rejected the first round results, the second round was cancelled, and the country's long-running civil war restarted, ending only with the death in battle of UNITA's leader Jonas Savimbi in Feb 2002. After a major disarmament programme, nobody expects a repetition this time around, but that has not stopped MPLA politicians seeking to create a climate of fear, said Sizaltina Cutaia, elections programme officer for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa in Luanda. "The message from UNITA and others is very pacific," she said. "Some of the things said by government officials has been causing some of the violence. It's just to intimidate people. "There are a lot of things that influence people to vote, especially in a country that experienced war after the elections in 1992. It's very difficult for people to think of elections as something that can bring about change, something that we should be having. People are still scared, people are stocking up food because they don't know what's going to happen." Violence against the opposition, she said, had been sporadic - the Human Rights Watch report last month reached similar conclusions - but the authorities do not need to resort to widespread atrocities, she explained. "We have a very biased media, and the election commission is very politicised. It's like they are instruments or puppets." Seven out of its 10 members are MPLA figures, she pointed out. Nonetheless she expects little in the way of international criticism. "Oil determines a lot in the way the international community looks at our country. The Angolan people is very much aware of that. We don't think they are going to say anything that will upset the Angolan government or the MPLA." With the opposition divided and limited to a few minutes on television and radio each day, it is difficult to tell who Angolans truly back, particularly as the country's last opinion poll was several years ago. "There's still no freedom for people to really talk about who they are supporting," said Ms Cutaia. "People are using the MPLA as security, they tell you they wear the T-shirt and go to the rallies so they are not connected to the opposition and they don't become a target, especially in the rural areas. "It's difficult to say it's free and fair. The MPLA is not ready to lose. It looks like they went to the same school with Mugabe, that's what we say here." @Email:sberger@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National