Polls opened yesterday in Angola’s third election in 37 years, widely expected to return long-ruling Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to power in the oil-rich nation despite a revitalized opposition.
From 7am voters headed to more than 10,000 schools and colleges across the southern African country to cast ballots for parliamentarians, with the leader of the winning party set to become president. Voting will close 11 hours later, with results expected to start coming in over the weekend. A final result could take around five days.
The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), in power since independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to sweep to victory which would hand Dos Santos, Africa’s second-longest-ruling leader, another five years in office.
During his 33 years in power, Dos Santos has centralized power in the presidency, dominating Angolan politics and exerting a strong role in business in Africa’s No. 2 oil producer.
His family has built an international business empire, but also poured billions into rebuilding the country after 41 years of armed conflict — 14 years of liberation struggle and 27 years of civil war.
The main opposition, Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), battled the government until its feared leader Jonas Savimbi was killed by the army in 2002.
As an opposition party, UNITA has struggled to find a base, taking only 10 percent of the vote in 2008 elections. Party leader Isaias Samakuva has campaigned mainly by calling for transparency and denouncing alleged flaws in the voter roll of 9.7 million people.
On the eve of the polls, he tried in vain to hold talks with Dos Santos over his concerns of irregularities, but the authorities insisted the poll was on track.
The traditional rivals now face a new threat in CASA, created in April by a former UNITA official Abel Chivukuvuku who joined forces with a high profile MPLA defector, civil society and other opposition groups.
He has actively courted Angola’s young voters, promising better jobs and living conditions for a nation where 55 percent of the population lives in abject poverty.
The National Electoral Commission said more than 97,000 observers from the nine parties contesting yesterday’s general elections had been accredited to watch the vote.
However, a parallel effort to monitor the election is being made by a group of Angolan activists.
“If they knew we were here, tonight they will be here to shut us down,” said Massilon Chindombe, a 31-year-old IT student working on the campaign.
In an underground room, young activists are receiving phone calls, text messages and e-mails from frustrated voters reporting irregularities in the elections.
Their complaints are compiled on a Web site, www.eleicoesangola2012.com, so the public can read them and pressure authorities into redressing them.
“Most of the complaints we’ve been getting are people who’ve registered in certain places and are being told to go and vote,” said Luaty Beirao, a rapper who is the driving force behind the project.
“What we’re doing here is creating an impartial civil society platform,” he said.
Beirao, also known by his hip-hop name Ikonoklasta, writes lyrics that take jabs at the government of Dos Santos and the glaring inequalities of Angolan society.
Last year, on March 7, he went a step further. Beirao and other members of his group organized a street protest with hundreds of young people in downtown Luanda in an unprecedented display of defiance.