Tomorrow, on August 31, Angolans will cast their votes to select their president, vice-president and parliament.
Given the dominance of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which won 82% of the vote in 2008, it is unlikely the 2012 elections will see the wholesale shifting of power. The plethora of opposition movements will make the elections complex and interesting to watch, but this diversity of opposition may also prove to be a weakness in the tallying up of votes and, taking into account the MPLA’s superior spending power and reach, the elections are likely to be a mere formality for Angola’s rulers.
Real change after over 33 years of President José Eduardo Dos Santos, known by many in Angola as ZéDu, is more likely to come from leadership struggles within the MPLA and broader social opposition movements in coming months and years than from the ballot box in coming days.
The MPLA has held power since Angola gained independence in 1975, first under Agostinho Neto and then under José Eduardo dos Santos who has been president since Neto died in 1979, making him the second longest standing president in Africa. In accordance with the revised 2010 constitution, this time round the president will be chosen by the party which wins the most votes in the parliamentary poll rather than be directly elected.
In its election campaign, the MPLA concedes that Angola faces many problems but states that it is the only party able to accelerate development. Its party programme prioritises poverty reduction and the eradication of hunger, and promises a minimum income, funds for young entrepreneurs and better access to education.
The campaign is what one would expect from a well-oiled party machine. The MPLA has become adept at presenting the president as a younger man and at injecting entertainment into Angolan politics through “showmicios”, party conventions that have adapted elements of popular entertainment shows.
Angola’s second biggest party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), is Angola’s main opposition, having won around 10% of the vote in 2008, and was one of the major players in the Angolan War of Independence (1961-1975) and Angolan Civil War (1975-2002).
In its campaign UNITA says it will establish a system of compulsory and free education for all citizens up to secondary level, guarantee a monthly minimum wage of 50,000 kwanza (around $520), and create healthcare infrastructure capable not only of meeting medical needs but of providing preventative care. UNITA also proposes a constitutional review, which includes separate and direct elections for the president and parliamentary members. UNITA’s campaign has also focused on the running of the election in itself and the role of the National Electoral Commission (CNE) amidst claims of electoral malpractice. The party called for a postponement of the ballot after irregularities, such as the failure to distribute voter cards, were reported.
Presiding over UNITA is Isaías Samakuva, who joined UNITA in 1974 and was the official UNITA ambassador in Europe in 1989-1994 and 1998-2002 before returning to Angola in 2002 after the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. He was elected to lead UNITA in 2003 and re-elected in 2007 in a race against Abel Chivukuvuku.
Abel Chivukuvuku will still play a part in the 2012 elections, having split from UNITA, running as the standard bearer for Coalition CASA-CE party. A familiar face for voters, Chivukuvuku is likely to grab third place and win some seats in parliament. The party leader has travelled across the country campaigning to stop income discrimination and to extend the age for admission to the civil service to 45. The self-described “leader of change” also promises to set up a Corruption Authority and make use of referenda to resolve matters of national importance.
The broad CASA-CE coalition is likely to outperform the troubled National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), once one of the three main parties in Angola. The FNLA continues to face problems due to the factionalism amidst ongoing leadership struggles between Lucas Ngonda and Ngola Kabangu, which Kabangu has accused the MPLA of trying to exacerbate ahead of the elections.
Other parties to watch include: centre-left Social Renewal Party (PRS) that gained over 3% in the last election and is often cited as the “crutch of MPLA” by UNITA; the Opposition Political Council (CPO) led by Anastácio João Finda, one of the younger candidates in the election and known for a campaign focussed on improving the education, health and youth sectors in Angola; FUMA, headed by António João Muachicungo, who was a member of PRS for 16 years and left the party after internal disputes; and PAPOD with its slogan ‘People, Peace, Liberty, Work and Development’.
One group of voters which may prove important is Angola’s youth. Many youth groups unaffiliated with any particular opposition party are calling for one thing only: change. Such demonstrations, some urging dos Santos to resign, would have been unlikely a few years back and the views of young Angolans appear to add another layer to the election race.
“Vote against MPLA”, urges Luaty Beirão, an Angolan rapper, in a YouTube video. His late father, João Beirão, was the director of the Eduardo dos Santos Foundation (FESA) and a close member of ZéDu’s circle.
Shows of disappointment with the regime have also come from other sections of society such as the Commission of Former Angolan Military (COEMA). Its members claim that they have not been paid their military pensions for years and have scheduled a protest to coincide with voting.
The Angolan government has reacted to protests by social movements in the capital Luanda and other cities with increasingly heavy-handed crackdowns. Many youth leaders and opposition members have been detained and threatened, and a recent demonstration by war veterans on June 20 was dispersed using tear gas and live ammunition.
Given the government’s forceful responses to social movements calling for change and the disparate nature of Angolan opposition, not to mention battles of personalities within specific movements, it is unlikely much power will be wrested from the MPLA in elections over which the ruling party exert a considerable degree of control and enjoy far superior spending power.
Post-electoral dealings, however, may prove crucial in determining Angola’s future. How the election results could affect things is uncertain, but succession plans to replace Dos Santos are already on the way and have been widely speculated about by political analysts. It is perhaps these issues that will have greater bearing on Angola’s future, its opposition movements and the ruling party.
Manuel Vicente, the MPLA’s current number two, for example, would likely continue governance in the style of ZéDu and has useful business links, but – due to his poor relations with the military and political inexperience – his rise has led to rifts in senior MPLA ranks and, moreover, his appointment would be unlikely to appease opposition protestors calling for an end to MPLA rule.
It seems that it will be the aftermath of the elections rather than the immediate result from ballot box itself that will determine Angola’s future. How succession struggles within the ruling party unfold and how popular broad-based opposition develops will decide whether Angola moves towards greater democracy, remains dominated by a small elite, or whether the country perhaps returns to a time of fighting and revolt.
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