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Angolan opposition disputes election, but its options are thin

João Lourenço held a press conference in Luanda on August 22, 2017.
João Lourenço held a press conference in Luanda on August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Eisenhammer

Angola's ruling MPLA party has claimed victory in this week’s election, but the opposition is crying foul and has disputed the results. Either way, the vote marks a new chapter for Angola as President José Eduardo dos Santos, one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents, steps down after 38 years in power.


The MPLA Angola’s ruling party  won the election with 61 per cent of the vote, according to an announcement made on Friday by the country's election commission after 98 per cent of votes from Wednesday's election were counted.

The MPLA did lose ground to the opposition, most likely due to the economic crisis sweeping the country and the fact that they are fielding a new presidential candidate this year: João Lourenço. Lourenço is a longtime party member, a former general and the current defence minister.

Still, Lourenço was in some ways a surprise pick. Many thought that current president José Eduardo Dos Santos who will remain party leader  would try to pass the torch to one of the members of his powerful family.

“We don’t know what went on in MPLA meeting rooms, but my guess is Lourenço was seen as a compromise,” says Didier Peclard, a senior lecturer at the University of Geneva who specialises in Angola.

He says Lourenço’s record was probably a key factor.

“Unlike other prominent members of the regime, Lourenço has not yet been accused of embezzlement, corruption or anything like that,” Peclard said. “He can appear as Mr. Clean within the regime.”

Indeed, Lourenço ran on an anti-corruption programme. He also vowed to revive the struggling economy dependent on imports. Lourenco has not ruled out deals with the World Bank and IMF to help restructure an economy that is overly dependent on oil.

However, not everyone is happy with Lourenço or the way the elections went down. Indeed Angola's main opposition party, UNITA, has cried foul. They dispute the results by the electoral commission.

“We do not understand where those numbers come from,” UNITA spokesman Alcides Sakala said. “Our representatives on the electoral commission were not included in producing those provisional results.”

They say they will release their own tally soon.

Peclard says the MPLA have had an advantage since the beginning.

“In Angola, the MPLA is a party, it is the state and it is the government,” he says. “So the MPLA entered the electoral campaign with massively more money, more airtime on public media and just more possibilities and resources in general. Not surprisingly, there’s a feeling that the elections could have been rigged. So it’s also not a big surprise that the opposition came up with its own figures.”

Civil society groups have also questioned the official results.

However, international observers - including those from the African Union - said the elections were free and fair. The observers may have wanted to avoid controversy and keep the peace, says Paula Christina Roque, an independent analyst of Angolan politics.

“Post-election violence has been a concern in many countries in Africa and and we want to avoid that at all costs,” Roque says. “But just questioning the transparency of the elections doesn’t mean it will result in electoral violence, it just means the government will have to answer to international observers. I think the question remains: why did the observers act so quickly to deem these results credible when, in fact, the results are still coming in?”

Roque says that, even if the opposition has evidence that the count was off, they don’t have a lot of options in a state largely controlled by the MPLA. UNITA contested election results in 2012, only to see their appeal thrown out of the country's highest court.

“I think the opposition will try to appeal to the court of the African Union. I think they will turn to the press. But they have very limited options,” Roque says. “The options they have at this point have also been curtailed because they can’t hold peaceful protests without the risk of security crackdown.”

It’s not clear what steps the opposition will take. Moreover, it won’t be easy for the country’s next leader.

Angola is in the midst of an economic crisis, a result of a fall in global oil prices. Inflation reached forty per cent in 2016, which had catastrophic effects on the millions of Angolans who live in poverty. There is also widespread anger about corruption in the government. If this situation continues, the opposition may hope to grow its tally for the next vote.

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