from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) – BESET by the worst political tensions in decades, and reeling from international embarrassment following the death of the former president, José Eduardo dos Santos, millions are going to participate in what is projected to be the closest election in post-independence Angola.
In power since independence from Portugal in 1975, the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) is at Wednesday’s (today’s) election facing the biggest risk to its stronghold on power.
The uncertainty comes 30 years after the advent of multiparty politics.
The polls could not have come at a worse time for the South African country amid political upheaval putting the unity pact signed 20 years ago with the rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) to end what was Africa’s longest civil war (1975-2002).
Economic crises and the worst drought in four decades add to the country’s strains.
In a humiliating chapter akin to airing dirty linen in public, elections have been overshadowed by a public spat between the government and the family of the former president dos Santos, following his death (aged 79) in Spain on July 8.
A fallout over the remains of the erstwhile longtime leader of the oil rich nation has dominated media space globally and only receded this past weekend after the deceased’s body was finally repatriated to Angola for burial, against his wishes of being buried overseas, according to his children.
A Spanish court ruled in favour of dos Santos’ widow, and by extension, the government, much to the anger of the ex-president’s elder children who are exiled.
His daughter, Tchizé dos Santos, in a social media post slammed Spain for “complicity” in the “international humiliation” of her father.
The outburst was directed to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the main opposition Popular Party.
“The institutions of your country handed the corpse of one of the greatest African heroes to his ex-wife separated five years ago, against the wishes of most of his children, to be taken from Spain and go to be humiliated by the dictatorship of Angola that persecuted him to death,” Tchizé said.
Divisive as a liberator and a dictator during his 38 years in power until 2017, dos Santos is the architect of the peace deal that brought calm to the country after the deaths of an estimated 800 000 civilians and displacement of 4 million others.
Political temperatures have risen in the nation of 35 million people as the government of the incumbent, President Joao Lourenco is accused of repression to maintain his and the MPLA’s grip on power.
With a system described as restricted democratic practice, it remains to be seen how the MPLA, bedevilled by divisions after former defence minister Lourenco assumed power, will fare against the opposition at arguably in its strongest position, under the United Patriotic Front (FPU) coalition.
The presidential poll is forecast to be a two-horse race between Lourenco (68) and FPU flag bearer, Adalberto Costa Júnior (60), an electro-technical engineer by qualification.
Over 14 million Angolans, including 22 650 abroad, are eligible to vote for the president and 220 Members of Parliament in the harmonised election.
Civil society organisations have lamented the erosion of human rights as the MPLA unleashes the state apparatus to quash dissent.
Last Wednesday, police arrested groups of protesters in the capital Luanda, where activists demonstrated against alleged irregularities, including subcontracting of the management of the election by the Spanish company Indra, the composition of the National Electoral Commission (CNE), which is dominated by ruling party loyalists, bias by public media and security forces as well as ghost voters in the electoral roll.
A group of civil society actors approached the Constitutional Court, with no success, to cancel the upcoming elections due to these grievances.
At the end of July, Luanda authorities also banned an opposition protest against these irregularities and a demand for equal treatment in the electoral process.
Scores of protesters have been arrested during protests to demand freeing of political prisoners and level electoral field, with journalists assaulted and detained while covering these protests since the beginning of the year.
At least two protesters have been killed.
Monsignor José Manuel Imbamba, the Archbishop of the local city of Saurimo and President of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé, urged political leaders to “abandon all resentment, all hatred, and not seek power for power’s sake, but pursue peace to favour the progress of the Angolan people.”
The closest poll until now was in 1992 when dos Santos secured 49,57 percent to Jonas Savimbi’s 40,07 percent.
Allegations of rigging aggravated the civil war.
Lourenco won 61,1 percent of the 2017 poll.
– CAJ News