x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Angola's ruling party in decisive poll win

Longtime leader's group gets 75% of vote but sasy victory cannot mask concerns among poor and youth that oil boom benefits the elite.

LUANDA, ANGOLA // As expected, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos extended his 33-year rule when his party won decisively in Friday's election, despite frustrations among the poor at being left out of Angola's oil boom.

His People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) took 74.46 per cent of the vote, according to provisional results from the National Election Commission yesterday. The main opposition Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) was second with about 18 per cent, and the new Casa party finished third with 4.5 per cent, the commission reported.

Angolans voted on Friday for 220 members of parliament, with the leader of the winning party receiving a five-year term as president.

It was only the third national election since Angola won independence from Portugal in 1975, and the second since a 27-year civil war ended a decade ago.

Counting began as soon as the polls closed, but the process will take several days to complete as the final results are compiled in the southern African nation.

About 57 per cent of more than 9 million eligible voters went to the polls to vote peacefully for a legitimate outcome, said John Billy Tendwa, chairman of the Southern African Development Community's Electoral Advisory Council, said. "It was a credible election because there was no hindrance, violence or intimidation of people trying to exercise their right to vote," he said. "Everything was cool."

The MPLA, in power since Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, took 81 per cent of the vote in the last election in 2008, the first ballot after the civil war ended in 2002.

Mr Dos Santos, 70, has ruled Angola for 33 years, through the devastating civil war and then during an oil boom which, over the last decade, has transformed the country into one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

While his family has built a business empire, he has also ploughed billions of dollars into rebuilding the nation, with new roads, schools, bridges and dams rising up from the ruins.

Public health and incomes have improved, but 55 per cent of the country still lives in abject poverty, often in shacks without electricity or running water.

Resentment among young Angolans, who enviously eye the luxurious new skyscrapers filling Luanda's skyline, has sparked protests demanding Mr Dos Santos step down and calling for the oil wealth to be spread more evenly.

Protests in Angola are quickly and violently repressed, but they clearly rattled a government that never allows any show of dissent. Unita accuses Mr Dos Santos of using his power and money to strengthen his control over the state and has promised a better democracy.

The party leader, Isaias Samakuva, has lambasted the organisation of the elections, citing worries about accreditation of observers and the failure to make a public audit of the 9.7 million names on the voter roll.

With only 10 per cent of votes in the last poll, Unita needs a strong showing to prove it remains relevant, particularly after a bruising split that saw a top party official form the new Casa party with a high-profile defector from the MPLA.

Casa has made inroads among young voters with promises of better jobs and homes.

"The MPLA will be the winner of the elections, but it is going to have to address the dissenters over the next five years," said Bango Serra, of the Angolan civic group Justice, Peace and Democracy.

"This dissent will first centre on the results, because of doubts about the organisation of the polls, then on the party's social policies."

Pedro Verona Pires, the former Cape Verde president and the chief of the African Union's observer team, described the poll's organisation as "satisfactory".

In 2008, chaos at the polls forced the government to allow a second day of voting. Friday's ballot appeared to go smoothly, with no incidents reported by police.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters