Saturday 17 March 2018

Angola votes for first new president in nearly four decades

A man casts his vote in elections in Luanda, Angola (AP)
A man casts his vote in elections in Luanda, Angola (AP)

Angolans have begun voting in an election in which the defence minister is the frontrunner to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who will step down after 38 years in power.

Around 9.3 million Angolans are registered to vote for the 220-member National Assembly; the winning party will then select the president.

Mr dos Santos' chosen successor is Joao Lourenco, the defence minister and a former governor who fought in the war against Portuguese colonial rule as well as the long civil war that ended in 2002.

The outgoing president, accompanied by wife Ana Paula dos Santos, and Mr Lourenco voted separately in Luanda, the capital, reported the state-run Agencia Angola Press.

The main opposition leader, Isaias Samakuva of the UNITA party, cast his ballot at a university in a Luanda suburb.

Angolan rights activists have alleged that MPLA, the ruling party, unfairly used state machinery ahead of the election, noting that most media coverage focused on its campaign.

Election observers from other African countries are monitoring the vote, but the European Union is not sending a full-fledged observer mission because it says the Angolan government wanted to impose restrictions, including limited access to polling stations around the country.

Some voters said they were satisfied with the voting process, which they described as calm and orderly.

"It was very fast," Luanda voter Francisco Joao Lopes told the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Another voter, 20-year-old Solange Moangongo, proudly showed an index finger marked with indelible ink, a measure designed to prevent people from trying to vote more than once.

"I feel like I am an adult because for the first time I was able to exercise my right to vote," Ms Moangongo told the Lusa agency.

"I hope that my vote will make a difference in these elections."

MPLA, whose Portuguese acronym means Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, won the 2012 election with 72% of votes amid allegations of irregularities.

UNITA, or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, a former rebel force that fought the MPLA in Angola's civil war, is the main opposition challenger.

Angola is beset by poverty, corruption and human rights concerns, though some analysts believe new leadership could open the way to more accountability.

Mr Lourenco, 63, has pledged to fight graft and is seen as a symbol of stability and even incremental change.

Critics, however, point to entrenched patronage networks benefiting an elite that includes Isabel dos Santos, the president's daughter and head of the state oil company Sonangol, and Jose Filomeno dos Santos, a son in charge of the country's sovereign wealth fund.

Additionally, the 74-year-old president is expected to remain ruling party leader, although there are concerns about his health since he received medical treatment in Spain this year.

There are opportunities for fiscal reform if Mr Lourenco becomes Angola's new president as expected, said a senior analyst at Exotix Capital, an investment bank that focuses on developing economies.

"While we expect broad continuity, investors will be hoping to see further measures to improve transparency and a boost for the private sector," analyst Stuart Culverhouse said in a statement.


Press Association

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