Angola opposition doubts election will be free and fair

August 30, 2012 11:18 am
A past poll that took place in Algeria/FILE

, LUANDA, Aug 30 – On the eve of Angola’s second peacetime vote, the main opposition party on Thursday sought talks with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos on its fears the election won’t be free and fair.

Unita’s party leader Isaias Samakuva said earlier he wanted to meet Dos Santos to discuss its long-held concerns about the electoral roll and the accreditation of 2,000 of its activists to monitor the balloting.

“We are going to propose a conversation with the candidate and president… to one more time use dialogue to resolve this situation,” he said late Wednesday, the final day of campaigning in the oil-rich nation.

“Many Angolans’ names don’t appear on the voter roll, and in many places the voter roll has not been released,” he said.

“We have come to the conclusion that the National Electoral Commission is not ready. The conditions don’t exist to ensure the minimum of an organised, transparent process.”

Unita, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, was once a powerful rebel force that battled the government for 27 years.

It is now the main opposition party but managed to take only 10 percent of the vote in the last elections four years ago.

Dos Santos’s People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) took 80 percent, in elections that were generally judged as legitimate. He has shown little willingness to make concessions to Unita in the past.

State media’s silence on Samakuva’s request seemed to indicate that a meeting was unlikely.

Dos Santos, already in power for nearly 33 years, is widely expected to win another five-year term with his party set to cruise to victory Friday.

He has claimed credit for hauling Angola out of civil war, which ended in 2002 after the army killed Unita’s notorious leader Jonas Savimbi.

Angola emerged from the conflict as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, powered by vast oil reserves that make the country Africa’s second-largest producer after Nigeria.

While Dos Santos’s family, notably his daughter Isabel, has built an international business empire, he has also poured billions of dollars into building roads, schools and hospitals.

The capital Luanda is now an endless series of construction projects, with glittering skyscrapers rising out of derelict districts and sprawling new neighbourhoods springing up in the suburbs.

But Dos Santos since last year has faced a small but persistent protest movement, led by young Angolans without a party affiliation but angered at their struggle to find jobs and decent housing.

Such demonstrations were long unheard of in Angola, where the ruling party keeps a tight lid on any public dissent and closely monitors the activities of civic groups.

The protests were quickly and often violently repressed, but have succeeded in turning the election campaign’s attention to the 55 percent of Angolans living in abject poverty, many without water or electricity.

“Even if you have skills, there’s no jobs,” said Jeroman de Dias da Costa, 27 and unemployed, among the few hundred people at Samakuva’s rally Wednesday.

The failure of either of the two leading parties to address those concerns sparked the creation of a new party in April. Top Unita leader Abel Chivukuvuku broke away to form the Casa party with a top MPLA official and a clutch of smaller opposition groups.

With half of Angolans younger than 18, how the youth decide to cast their ballots is one of the central questions of the election, though even Casa leaders say their goal is simply to dent MPLA’s majority.


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