After half a century in power, Angola’s ruling party faces a key electoral test

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Supporters of UNITA, Angola’s main opposition party, attend the party’s latest rally in Cazenga, outside Angola’s capital Luanda, August 22, 2022.SIPHIWE SIBEKO/Reuters

After dominating Angola for nearly 50 years, one of Africa’s oldest political parties faces a severe test from a popular opposition leader and a growing electorate. more angered by soaring prices and deepening poverty in the oil-rich country.

Wednesday’s election is expected to be Angola’s closest race in decades, but the ruling MPLA is almost certain to retain power due to its tight control of the electoral machine, analysts say. They warn of a growing risk of violent post-election protests by frustrated voters.

“The MPLA does not seem willing to stop using the human, material and financial resources of the state to manipulate the elections in its favor,” said independent analyst Borges Nhamirre in a report for the Institute for Studies. Africa-based security this month.

The most likely scenario, he said, is for the ruling party to win the election by orchestrating the decisions of the electoral commission and the courts, despite the growing power of the opposition. “It could cause a popular uprising which could lead to post-election violence,” he said.

Angola is Africa’s second largest oil producer, behind Nigeria, but it has wasted much of its wealth on state corruption by a small elite that continues to monopolize power. The country is one of the most unequal in Africa. Most of the population earns less than $2.50 a day, the poverty rate has steadily increased over the past decade, the value of the national currency has fallen, inflation exceeds 20% and the country depends on increasingly expensive food imports.

The MPLA, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, changed leaders in 2017 to replace Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who had been the continent’s second longest-serving president with 38 years in power. But his successor, Joao Lourenço, failed to bolster the ruling party’s popularity as the economy deteriorated.

The main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, has a charismatic new leader, Adalberto Costa Junior, who has drawn huge crowds to his campaign rallies. His party forged an alliance with two smaller opposition parties, boosting his chances of winning the vote.

An opinion poll published in May by the research agency Afrobarometer showed that the MPLA was supported by only 29% of 1,200 respondents, while 22% supported UNITA and almost half were not. willing to express a preference. The poll suggested the opposition had made significant gains this year, as the same agency’s 2019 survey found a much larger MPLA lead.

Shortly after the publication of this poll, the Angolan government introduced new rules that effectively banned all polls for the remainder of the election campaign – an example of how it used its state power to tilt the balance in its favour.

The collapse of the Angolan economy, which fell into recession from 2015 to 2020, is the main reason for the opposition’s growing popularity. The country relies heavily on imported rice, and import prices have risen as the currency collapsed.

“In many areas, people say they can no longer afford to feed their families more than once a day, and hungry voters are also hungry for change,” the Angolan anti-corruption group said. Maka Angola in an analysis this month.

“This led to huge gatherings of people to show their support for UNITA as the electoral caravan passed,” he said.

The ruling party, sensing that it might be in danger, tightened its grip on the electoral system. Electoral commission chief Manuel Pereira da Silva is widely seen as a pro-government supporter whose appointment in 2020 was heavily criticized by the opposition. The commission decided that election observation groups will be limited to just 2,000 election day observers – a tiny number in a country with more than 26,000 polling stations.

Angola’s electoral laws also require that the counting be done centrally, at a site with restricted access, which makes it easier to manipulate the results. And voter rolls are so unreliable that they contain an estimated 2.5 million dead voters, according to a report released this week by the Africa Policy Research Institute.

“The ruling party has near absolute control over the state apparatus that organizes the elections,” the independent think tank said.

“Key electoral institutions are partisan due to the MPLA’s dominance in the number of officials it appoints to these institutions.”

The MPLA also wields great influence over other levers of power, including the courts and the media. Angola’s national media, including television stations, are largely state-controlled and reportedly gave more than 90% of their election coverage to the MPLA.

In the latest twist in the election campaign, the body of former president Mr. dos Santos was dramatically brought back to Angola on Saturday, six weeks after his death in Spain. The repatriation of his body and the preparations for his funeral could help the MPLA maintain its media dominance in the final days of the campaign.

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