Angolan democracy turned another page when the nation went to the polls on 31 August. The ruling party MPLA won with 72% of the vote - 10% less than in 2008 but still a huge majority. Voter participation was approximately 63%, a drop of nearly 20% from 2008. Voter apathy could be attributable to the fact that in the minds of many Angolans the victory of the MPLA was never in doubt.
Predictions of unrest and violence in the run-up and after the elections were unfounded. The opposition parties UNITA and CASA-CE have alleged fraud and called the election process into question. Their main criticisms are that the Angolan National Election Commission (CNE) failed to accredit party observers to all polling stations and that the voter register was not made public. Both parties will contest the results from some polling stations where they did not have observers present but this will happen within the framework of the law. UNITA has stated that they will provide a dossier ‘proving fraud’. But any legal challenge will likely be a long drawn-out affair and may fizzle-out as the MPLA get on with running the country.
UNITA nearly doubled its support from 10% in 2008 to nearly 19% and this will temper any misgivings about the process. Likewise, CASA-CE which was only formed in March this year, will be pleased to have entered parliament on their first try with around 6% of the vote.
The elections were judged free and credible by SADC observers, and the head of the African Union observer mission and former president of Cape Verde, Pedro Pires, stated that the elections proceeded ‘satisfactorily’ and were an improvement from 2008.
The elections prove the continued dominance of the MPLA in Angolan politics. One implication of this is that internal MPLA party dynamics will continue to strongly influence Angolan politics, perhaps even more so than the opposition. Manuel Vicente as vice-president is still a contentious choice for some within the party. He will have to invest in his popularity amongst Angolan citizens and MPLA party members.
In terms of governing the country, President dos Santos and his government will focus on the challenges of reducing poverty and inequality, increasing economic opportunities for the majority and creating jobs. In the words of the president: ‘Our social development should be as dynamic as our economic growth.’
After investing heavily in physical infrastructure, which has mostly been put into place over the last ten years, human and social infrastructure is now the priority for Angola’s government. Mass education and mass employment however are considerably more difficult to achieve than building railway lines or roads, and instead of kilometres of roads tarred Angola will have to accept the UNDP’s Human Development Index as a measure of success.
A new census in 2013 (the first since 1970) will contribute accurate data for better policy-making. But the government has taken on a colossal challenge which may require wide-reaching reforms to make the Angolan system of governance more efficient. Good policy ideas do not always get translated into policy outcomes on the ground and on many levels of government there are capacity and accountability deficits.
While the elections and the increase in opposition MPs could partly alleviate these accountability deficits, local elections (autarquias) seem unavoidable in the medium term to increase government responsiveness and accountability. As of yet no date has been set for the autarquias.
With the re-election of President dos Santos and now vice-president Manuel Vicente (former CEO of Sonangol), the final pieces for an eventual exit of dos Santos are in place. Vicente as successor to the presidency is instrumental to avoiding a scenario similar to that of Zambia, where former President Chiluba was convicted of various corruption cases upon leaving office.
The exact moment of dos Santos’s retreat from frontline politics will crucially depend on Vicente’s popularity with the population and within the party. While dos Santos has been able to steer the political currents and has core support amongst party and population, Vicente seems aloof and out of place in the political arena. It also remains to be seen whether Vicente can emulate dos Santos’s skill as a political operator to remain in power. Dos Santos will assist Vicente – especially in the first few months (or even years), but Vicente will eventually have to learn to stand on his own two feet.
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