Photo: The party flag for the MPLA, Angola’s ruling party. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Polls have just closed on Angola’s election and the ruling MPLA party has claimed victory after their election observers finished reviewing the ballots. The main opposition party, UNITA, claims that the election is not over yet. UNITA party leaders acknowledges it trails behind the MPLA in votes, but according to their count, they are close enough to form a coalition with another opposition party and knock the MPLA from power.
In Angola elections, the party with the most votes appoints a president whether or not they have over 50 percent of the tally. If UNITA were to take power, it would be a massive political upset, as MPLA has ruled for nearly the last 40 years in Angola. The MPLA and UNITA now fight with ballots, but before 2002, the groups fought with bullets, as the two parties waged a civil war for control of Angola.
Angola’s political scenery will change regardless of who wins. Former president José Eduardo dos Santos has chosen to step down. Santos was one of the world’s longest ruling politicians, having served over 35 years in office. Santos oversaw Angola as it went from Communism to Petro-Capitalism, from Cold War politics to civil war to peace. Santos was the leader that helped Angola gain independence from Portugal and (unequally shared, corruption- ridden) prosperity from petroleum.
If Santos’s party, the MPLA, has won, then he will likely still have some power in the country, but Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco will be the country’s president. In the election, Lourenco campaigned on combating many problems his predecessor created. In an interview with the Washington Post Lourenco promised to increase transparency, decrease corruption, and to diversify the economy away from oil.
These promises were not that different from those made by UNITA party leader Isaías Samakuva. Samakuva took his promises further, however, pushing for a larger change in direction in the country that would lift more Angolans out of poverty. Samakuva would likely want to remove the MPLA from several state apparatuses. As things stand now, MPLA has control of the media and the election commission– two things that naturally make Angola’s elections less fair. Opposition candidates have complained about a lack of media coverage and access to the polls. The complaints aren’t without reason, as Jason Burke for the Guardian notes that most election posters are for Lourenco.
Despite the stacked odds, Angolan opposition parties performed much better in this election than in prior ones. UNITA claims 40 percent of the vote, the party’s best performance yet. Given Angola’s massive inequality, lack of economic growth, rampant corruption, and lack of employment, that is not necessarily surprising. Even if the MPLA can claim victory, it will be a narrow one. This election shows the power of Angola’s old guard is waning.