Angolans vote in tight race 0

Angolans were casting ballots on Wednesday in what was expected to be the most competitive vote in their country’s democratic history, with incumbent President Joao Lourenco squaring up against charismatic opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior.

The election has been overshadowed by Angola’s many woes – a struggling economy, inflation, poverty and drought, compounded by the death of a former strongman president.

The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has ruled the oil-rich nation for nearly five decades, is facing its most serious challenge since the first multiparty vote in 1992.

“It’s been 20 years of peace and we are still poor,” said Lindo, a 27-year-old electrician queueing up to vote in Nova Vida, a middle-class suburb of the capital Luanda.

“The people want change — the government doesn’t provide for people’s basic needs,” said Lindo, who gave only his first name.

Eight political parties are running, but the real contest lies between the MPLA and its long-standing rival and ex-rebel movement the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Opinion polls suggest that support for the MPLA – which won 61 percent of the vote in 2017 elections – will dwindle, while the UNITA, which has entered an electoral pact with two other parties, will make gains.

But UNITA’s inroads might not be enough to unseat Lourenco, 68, who succeeded veteran leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos five years ago.

“The margins will be closer than ever before… but the advantages of incumbency mean MPLA is still odds on to pip Costa (Junior),” said Eric Humphery-Smith, an analyst at London-based Verisk Maplecroft.

Appeal to vote

The MPLA traditionally wields a grip over the electoral process and state media in Angola, but the opposition is urging supporters not to be intimidated.

“This is a historic day,” Costa Junior declared, after casting his ballot.

“It is important that this day be a celebration,” he said, urging “full turnout and for all ballots to be counted.”

Lourenco urged citizens to come out and vote because “in the end it’s all of us who will emerge winners and it is democracy that wins” he said after casting his ballot at Lusiada de Angola University in Luanda.

Opposition and civic groups have raised fears of voter tampering, and social media is rife with claims of dead people registered to vote.

Costa Junior, 60, is popular among young people — a significant and growing voting bloc — and has pledged to “eradicate poverty” and create jobs.

Poverty and graft

Lourenco, a Soviet-educated former general who had promised a new era for Angola when he was first elected, has trumpeted a list of achievements.

He is credited with making far-reaching reforms in one of southern Africa’s economic powerhouses.

They include boosting transparency in the financial sector and efficiency in parastatal organisations, and promoting business-friendly policies to lure foreign investors. His government has managed to attract back global diamond miner De Beers, which had quit 10 years ago.

But little has changed for most of Angola’s 33 million people for whom life is a daily grind.

Angola is Africa’s second largest crude producer, but the oil bonanza also nurtured corruption and nepotism under dos Santos, who died in Spain last month.

The low-key, night-time repatriation of his remains in the final leg of campaigning has added a macabre touch to the election.

Dos Santos will be buried on Sunday, which would have been his 80th birthday.

Analysts warn that any MPLA attempts to capitalise on the funeral could backfire, given widespread anger over his legacy among young people.

Some 14.7 million people are registered to vote at 13,200 polling stations across the vast southern African nation.

Angolans living overseas are for the first time able to cast ballots from abroad.

Results are expected within a few days. In past elections, results have been contested, in a process that can take several weeks.

Source: AFP