Threats and allegations mar election run-up


WIDESPREAD CLAIMS that Angola’s ruling MPLA party is combining a violent intimidation campaign with vote-rigging to win the August 31st parliamentary election have dramatically increased tensions in the country.

Leading opposition party Unita threatened to pull out of the election earlier this month because the National Electoral Commission had rehired Indra-Sistemas SA, a Spanish logistics company it accuses of rigging the last poll in 2008 in favour of the MPLA.

The MPLA secured 82 per cent of the vote on that occasion and its leader, José Eduardo dos Santos – who came to power four years after the war of independence with Portugal ended in 1975 – went on to retain his position as president.

Opposition parties claim their members have been attacked by MPLA supporters in rural areas during campaign rallies, while analysts says the government’s control of state-run media, its resources and strong-arm tactics give it an unfair advantage.

Senior researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies Gwinyayi Dzinesa told The Irish Times he did not believe the opposition parties stood any chance of electoral success because of the MPLA’s dominance and control.

“The opposition parties may not accept the election results, which would cause problems for the MPLA, but I think the real challenge to their position is from the emerging social movements,” he said.

One of Africa’s largest oil producers, Angola earns billions of euro each year in revenue from that resource, as well as from its gas fields.

But many of its citizens believe members of the regime are enriching themselves from these resources rather than using them to tackle poverty and create employment.

Youth and war veterans’ movements have taken to the streets of the capital repeatedly since last year to protest against the MPLA, such is their disenchantment with the former liberation movement’s efforts to improve their standards of living.

The embryonic youth movements are calling for Dos Santos to resign over youth unemployment, while the veterans have promised to disrupt the election unless pensions promised to them at the end of the civil war are paid.

Official figures say there are 40,000 war veterans – drawn from the MPLA, Unita and a third liberation movement, the FNLA – seeking pensions for their wartime services. But the actual number is thought to be much higher.

On August 1st, when electioneering officially started, the US-based Human Rights Watch released a report in which it warned the government was responsible for numerous incidents of political violence, intimidation of protesters, and crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations to date.

“The human rights environment in Angola is not conducive for free, fair, and peaceful elections,” said Leslie Lefkow, the organisation’s deputy Africa director.

Four parties and five coalition groups will run in Friday’s poll, and 220 deputies will be elected to parliament.

The poll will also decide the presidential race between main contenders Dos Santos and Unita leader Isaias Samakuva, as under the constitution adopted in 2010 the new parliament elects the country’s head of state.

Series concludes