Polls close for Angola parliamentary election

Second election since end of 27-year civil war likely to keep Eduardo dos Santos in power despite strong opposition.

Polls have closed in Angola in only the second election since the end of the country’s 27-year civil war, with the opposition complaining about the authenticity of the voter roll.

Nine million voters in Africa’s second-largest oil producer were registered to vote in Friday’s election which is expected to extend President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s grip on power despite a revitalised opposition.

Dos Santos, in power for 33 years, cast his ballot saying he was pleased with the conduct of the nation’s third polls since independence.

“I am satisfied because the process is going smoothly throughout the country,” he said after voting at a school in the capital Luanda’s government district near the presidential palace.

“I urge all Angolans to vote, to vote for democracy, which is important,” he said. “Today people have power in their hands, and it’s a great responsibility.”

Voting began at 7am (0600 GMT) and closed at 5pm (1800 GMT) with Friday declared a national holiday.

More than 10,000 polling stations were involved and initial results are expected within a day, with final returns some time next week.

Turnout patchy

Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Angola, said voter turnout in some places was high and in others low.

He said he had been to places where there was only a “trickle” of voters while others had “long queues and a lot of people participating”.

Angolans cast their votes for parliamentarians, with the leader of the winning party becoming president.

Dos Santos has never faced a direct vote on his presidency. He won the first round of a presidential vote in 1992, held during a lull in the civil war. The run-off was aborted when fighting resumed.

In 2008 Angola held only parliamentary elections, with the presidential vote delayed and ultimately abolished under a new constitution that created a party list system.

The ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), in power since independence from Portugal in 1975, took more than 80 per cent of the vote and is expected to win comfortably again.

“It would be absolutely astonishing if the MPLA didn’t win a major victory,” said our correspondent.

For the main opposition Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which won only 10 per cent of the vote in 2008, the elections are a chance to prove that the former rebellion is still relevant to national

Isaias Samakuva, the leader of UNITA, has already raised concerns about irregularities, mainly about the voter roll, in a campaign that has centred on calls for greater democracy and transparency in government.

Missing names

Speaking on Thursday, Samakuva said: “Many Angolans’ names don’t appear on the voter roll, and in many places the voter roll has not been released.

“We have come to the conclusion that the National Electoral Commission is not ready.

“The conditions don’t exist to ensure the minimum of an organised, transparent process.”

Samakuva unsuccessfully sought to meet dos Santos to discuss his party’s long-held concerns about the electoral roll and the accreditation of 2,000 of its activists to monitor the balloting.

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UNITA splintered earlier this year, with the charismatic Abel Chivukuvuku forming the Salvation-Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE) party in April, along with a top-level defector from the MPLA, smaller opposition groups and prominent members of civil society.

He has made inroads by actively courting the youth vote with promises of better jobs and housing, seeking to harness the frustrations of the youth in a country where more than half the population is under 18.

In the decade since Angola’s war ended, the oil-powered economy has become one of the fastest-growing in the world, showering the elite with fabulous riches while 55 per cent of the population live in abject poverty, according to UN data.

The elections come a day after police arrested several members of  CASA-CE party after they tried to enter the national electoral commission (CNE) building to demand credentials to observe the vote at polling stations, a party official and police said.

William Tonet, a candidate for CASA-CE, told the Reuters news agency that police guarding the CNE in Luanda fired shots to keep back dozens of young party members who approached the building.

‘Disappointing’ campaign

About a dozen party members were taken away by police, Tonet said.

A police officer at the Quarta Esquadra police station near the electoral commission told Reuters that several CASA-CE members were arrested but he could not confirm shots were fired.

No one was hurt in the incident, which followed a month of generally peaceful campaigning, said Tonet.

Tonet said that out of the 6,850 credentials requested by CASA-CE, the electoral commission had issued only 3,000. UNITA has made similar complaints about credentials not being issued.

However, the CNE said earlier that more than 97,000 observers from the nine parties contesting the election had been accredited to watch over the vote..

Luis Ngimbi, head of a local team of observers, said while no major incidents were reported in the run-up to the polls, “the campaign has been disappointing” because the parties’ promises lacked content of their promised policy programmes.

Ambrosio de Lemos, national police commander, said that his forces would ensure that all the electoral laws were obeyed.

“We will not tolerate nor allow these elections to be derailed,” he told a news conference.

“Citizens must be able to access the polling stations, in accordance with their civil rights, without any problems.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies