Monday, September 08, 2008

Unita disputes ruling MPLA landslide victory in Angolan election

The opposition Unita Party has claimed elections were rigged after Angola’s ruling party won a landslide victory claiming 80 per cent of the vote in Friday’s election. The poll was the first in 16 years. The right-wing Unita (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), which fought a bitter civil war for 27 years, claimed just 10 percent with two-thirds of the vote counted. With final results expected later today, Unita has lodged a complaint with Angola's electoral commission over the running of the vote. "The final result might not fully reflect the will that was expressed by the people of Angola in the ballot," Isaias Samakuva, Unita's leader, said yesterday.

The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has claimed victory and called Unita “bad losers”. The MPLA has ruled Angola since independence from Portugal in 1975 and fought a civil war with Unita which was supported by the South African apartheid regime and also covertly by the US. Half a million people died in the 27 year war which ended when Unita’s leader Jonas Savimbi was killed by government soldiers in 2002. Within six weeks of his death, the two sides then agreed on a ceasefire and Unita became the official opposition party.

The 2008 election is the first poll since the failed 1992 poll sponsored by the ill-fated Portuguese sponsored Bicesse Accords. In that election, the MPLA won with 54 percent of the vote to Unita's 34 percent. Like this time, Unita disputed those results and resumed a civil war with immediate success. However, when they threatened to disrupt the supply from the oil-rich province of Cabinda, the Clinton administration withdrew their support in favour of the Luanda government. Unita have spent the last few years attempting to shore up their political support in advance of this year’s promised election.

Now many are wondering whether Unita’s failure will be a trigger for a return to war. The government has denied they have been up to any electoral shenanigans though have admitted the existence of “administrative glitches” in some areas, particularly in the capital, Luanda , home to nearly a quarter of the country's almost 8.3 million registered voters. Unita and three smaller rivals have called for the election to be annulled in the Luanda province. They claim a new poll is necessary because controls over the ballots were inadequate and many people were denied the opportunity to vote,

There are mixed reports from the 1,200 foreign election observers from 17 international organisations in the country. Monitors from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said the vote had been "transparent and credible" among the eight million voters. However an EU observer who visited several polling stations said the voting in Luanda was a “disaster” caused by poor planning and inadequate infrastructure. Luisa Morgantini, chief of the EU observer mission, said problems included lack of polling officials, ballots and the ink used to mark voters' fingers and prevent multiple voting. "Voting was a disaster in Luanda following woeful organisation," she said. “The situation was better outside the capital, though there also were problems there.”

The vote took two days to complete. Candidates from 10 parties and four coalition groups contested 220 parliamentary seats. If the MPLA gets its expected two-thirds majority, it will be in a position to make sweeping changes to Angola’s constitution. The result will also shore up the position of long-standing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos who is up for re-election next year. Santos’s international position is solid thanks to the country’s rich oil interests. And Dos Santos is perfectly placed to take advantage of the boom. During the Soviet era, he graduated from Baku’s Oil Academy with a degree in Petroleum Engineering after studying six years on scholarship there.

Angola has recently joined OPEC and has replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s leading source of crude oil. But little of the proceeds have trickled down to Angola’s poor and the country's dilapidated infrastructure also affected its ability to hold an election. Millions of Angolans have moved to Luanda in recent years as they are unable to make a living in rural areas and civil war land mines remain an ever present danger. 22-year-old unemployed Pai Bando told AFP he would not vote for Unita, despite its promise of a fairer distribution of wealth, because he feels only the MPLA is strong enough to make changes. But he remained sceptical of the promise of all parties. "They (the elite) get all the money from the oil and the diamonds, they get everything and we get nothing," he said.

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