After 10 years of peace is Dos Santos’ 32-year rule under threat?
-Article by Louise Redvers, ThinkAfricaPress
A secret pre-electoral survey, apparently conducted by a Brazilian company on behalf of the MPLA late last year, is understood to have forecast that the ruling party would only win around 48% of the vote.
Luanda, Angola: On Wednesday April 4 Angola celebrated the tenth anniversary of the end of its three-decade civil war.
But what should have been day of unified reflection and celebration was hijacked by the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) who turned the country-wide events into pro-government rallies that served only to underline the growing divisions within the country.
In a speech to thousands wearing white t-shirts bearing his face, long-serving president Jose Eduardo dos Santos hit out at opposition parties and civil society groups for criticising the government and denied claims the upcoming election was being rigged.
Dos Santos, who has been in power for 32 years, boasted to the crowd in the town of Luena, Moxico, close to where rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was killed back in 2002, that the MPLA was too big and powerful to need to cheat.
“We don’t need fraud, we don’t need tricks, we don’t need to cheat, we are very big and we are a very strong party,” he said, adding “Those who are strong don’t need to cheat to win.”
His retort was aimed directly at the União Nacional pela Independência Total de Angola (UNITA), once led by Savimbi and now the country’s largest opposition party. UNITA has been voicing its concerns about how the elections are being prepared.
They and the other parties were unhappy that voter registration began before the new electoral legislation was passed, but are even more annoyed about the appointment of Suzanna Ingles as chair of the National Electoral Commission (CNE).
Ingles, who is a lawyer rather than a judge as the law stipulates, is also a member of the MPLA Women’s group OMA which clearly brings the notion she is independent into question.
With only 16 parliamentary seats compared to the MPLA’s 191, UNITA was unable to stop the National Assembly endorsing the appointment and instead staged a walkout to show their frustration.
A complaint to the Constitutional Court has been rejected and there are low expectations about a similar appeal submitted to the Supreme Court now that Dos Santos, who personally appoints senior judges, has publicly pledged his confidence in the CNE.
No-one is quite sure how events will develop. UNITA – who like the other opposition parties were deliberately excluded from all peace celebrations – have not ruled out street protests.
Ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary, UNITA’s Horácio Junjuvili travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to brief international media about their concerns and the corner they find themselves in.
Defending accusations that UNITA themselves were to blame for their lack of presence in Angola, Junjuvili said the opposition had been bullied and repressed, and starved of media space and funds by a government becoming increasingly dictatorial and intolerant.
“In any normal country, if you had five months to go until an election and no credible electoral body, the polls would be delayed,” he said, sighing. “But Angola is not a normal country.”
The rare trickle of wire coverage that this trip generated is unlikely to worry the Angolan government, which enjoy good relations with a wide portfolio of oil-hungry countries including the United States, the UK, France, Portugal, Brazil and China.
These nation’s diplomatic missions know very well what is going on in Angola. Some even fund the civil society groups who complain about media censorship and lack of human rights.
But satisfying local targets to “support good causes” is a world away from direct government-to-government challenges, and is likely to remain this way especially given Angola’s resource wealth and associated investment opportunities.
Adding to the concerns about the electoral preparation, there are now reports circulating that the European Union will not be sending any observers to monitor the election.
This leaves the job of evaluating the polls for fairness and freedom to the African Union (AU), of which Angola holds the chair of the peace and security council, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which Angola is currently president.
Civil society groups are despairing. “The European Union observers were the only ones who raised red flags in the 2008 polls, now we will have no objectivity,” one activist lamented.
But going back to Dos Santos’ boast – that the MPLA does not need to cheat to win the upcoming polls – doth the president protest too much?
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