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Elections in Angola

António Cascais / im (Reuters, AP)August 31, 2012

Elections got underway in Angola on Friday which observers say will keep President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in power. Formal opposition may be weak, but he faces pressure to redistribute the nation's wealth.

MPLA supporters hold a rally in preparation for the 31 August. Fotograf: António Cascais/DW
Image: DW

The campaign in Angola was an unequal battle between the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and eight opposition parties.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has led Angola since the country gained independence from Portugal three decades ago, and is also widely expected to win the 31 August election.

A view of skycrappers under construction in Luanda, Angola. (ddp images/AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
Angola has witnessed considerable transformation in recent yearsImage: AP

The only authoritarian leader who has been in power longer than dos Santos is Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Dos Santos exuded self-confidence as the campaign wound up.

"The reconstruction of our country is in full swing. We have contributed significantly to the improvement of the living conditions of the Angolan people. The opposition can only criticize and threaten but the MPLA works for the good of the Angolan citizens," dos Santos said at a campaign rally.

A 2011 study by the prestigious American Gallup Institute ranked dos Santos as the most unpopular political leader in Africa.

Nevertheless it appears that an MPLA victory is inevitable when the party's power and influence is compared with that of the opposition, led by the former rebel movement UNITA.

Opposition leaders like UNITA's Isaias Samakuva and others have never been able to match the charisma of the historic UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.

Human rights concerns

Rights groups like Global Witness and Human Rights Watch have levelled a barrage of criticism against dos Santos and his ruling MPLA for failing to share the country's oil riches more equally among Angola's 18 million people.

Angolan journalist, blogger and human rights activist Rafael Marques criticises the MPLA's use of public funds for its own campaign and its crackdown on the opposition.

Police in Angola disperse a demonstration organised by the opposition Nelson Sul d'Angola
Security agencies are accused of cracking down on the oppositionImage: DW

"What we are witnessing here in Angola is an electoral process that wants to keep the current regime in power. It is a highly corrupt system," Marques said. "No Angolan who is reasonably sane believes that these elections will be fair and legal."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized arbitrary detentions, unfair trials and harassment of journalists and other observers.

"In 2008 there was a monitoring mission from the European Union. They had long term observers, who were stationed in all provinces of the country," HRW researcher Lisa Rimli told DW.

"This time round there are fewer election observers - and they have been unable to get accreditation." she added, saying there is a climate of intimidation and freedom of assembly is restricted.

Opposition wanted postponement

UNITA, the largest of the eight opposition parties, called for a mass demonstration for fair elections. Its leader Isaias Samakuva accused the National Electoral Commission, which is dominated by the MPLA, of irregularities.

UNITA party leader addresses party members at a rally. Copyright: DW/Nelson Sul d’Angola 28.08.2012, Benguela, Angola
The main opposition party UNITA says the elections will not be free and fairImage: DW

"We are listening to the people in every corner of the country, saying there is much suffering and that they want change," Samakuva told supporters at a rally in the capital, Luanda.

"We called for the postponement of the elections. It's better to wait a month until everything complies with legal requirements. But this did not happen," he said.

Oil - curse or blessing?

Thanks to an oil output boom, Angola has enjoyed rapid economic growth. Between 2002 and 2008 the economy expanded by an average of 15 percent per year. The IMF says Angola's GDP per capita in 2010 was $4,328 (3,454 euros), among the highest in Africa.

But, while major investments in construction and infrastructure have covered many of the scars of war, critics and ordinary Angolans say widespread poverty and inequality are festering, unhealed sores.

A shanty town in Angola that has not benefitted from the country's wealth. Fotograf:STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Unequal distribution of wealth has led to increased poverty in the country.Image: Getty Images/AFP

The MPLA says it cut poverty levels from 68 percent of the population in 2002 to around 39 percent in 2009.

In all probability Eduardo dos Santos will be confirmed in office. A constitutional amendment in 2010 abolished direct presidential elections. The position of president now goes to the candidate who heads the list of the party which wins the most votes. And that will be the MPLA.