from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) – AMID fears of electoral fraud by the opposition and a new era without one of Africa’s longest leaders beckoning, the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) looks destined to prolong its more than four decades at the helm of the Southern African country.
The continent’s third-longest serving leader, Jose Eduardo dos Santos (aged 74), in power since 1979, for years after independence from Portugal, is stepping down later in August.
With MPLA a dominant force since an almost 15-year armed anti-colonial war, his anointed successor and defence minister, Joao Lourenco (63), is projected to romp to victory at the elections set for August 23.
Some 6 million Angolans are set to vote out of a total population of 25 million.
Close rival, Isaías Samakuva (71), of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), poses the biggest challenge to Lourenco’s ascension.
History suggests UNITA, which fought alongside the MPLA in the war for independence and then against the MPLA in the ensuing civil war, would continue playing second fiddle.
Not to be outdone is Abel Chivukuvu (59) of the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola – Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), which claims a huge support base in the country.
At the last poll held in 2012, the ruling party secured 71,85 percent of the vote while UNITA managed 18,67 percent. CASA-CE secured 6 percent.
Analysts projected dos Santos’ party would again emerge victorious. “Chances are very high Lourenco of MPLA will romp to victory considering the ruling party has been very much organised and formidable,” said political commentator Gilberto Fernandes in an interview with CAJ News in the capital Luanda this week.
Entrepreneur Paulo Marques said the fact MPLA was changing its leadership would be a huge moral boost.
His closest rival Samakuva has been at the helm of the opposition since 2003 a year after militant leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in combat with government forces and his immediate successor António Dembo died from injuries sustained in a firefight with Angolan government troops.
“People are always tired of being led by one person over and over again,so, a change in MPLA leadership will definitely work well for their new candidate. More-so, the ruling party has resources to flex muscles in the election campaigns,” said Marques.
Lourenco has also been upbeat ahead of the polls and maintained the ruling party would emerge victorious.
“Our expectations for the August elections are good. We are working toward a comfortable victory in those elections. We are going to make every effort to have a transparent administration,” Lourenco said.
He said his administration would prioritise the fight against corruption stifling the rapidly growing economy of the mineral and oil-rich nation. A global drop in oil prices has also been a hiccup.
“We are going to combat corruption, and we are going to underscore the fact that we want the private investors to be a major part of our future economy. The public sector will be limited to reconstruction and infrastructure, and even in those areas we will try and set up public private partnerships,” Lourenço said.
However, preparations for the polls have been marred by allegations of violence against the opposition and muzzling of press freedom.
Recently, UNITA embarked on protest march in the capital demanding free and fair elections.
Samakuva said the party would only accept defeat if the polls were free and fair.
“This protest is to denounce the vicious system of fraud perpetuated in recruiting the same companies that participated in manipulating elections of 2008 and 2012. We want transparency, and free and fair elections,” said the presidential hopeful.
Rights groups said security forces frequently cracked down on pro-democracy and human rights activists, raising doubts about whether the elections will be free and fair.
“We have often seen Angolan police use unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa.Lourenco has pledged the elections would be credible.
– CAJ News