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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jason Burke in Johannesburg

Angola’s ruling party claims victory in tightly contested vote

João Lourenço
João Lourenço casts his vote in Luanda in last week’s general elections. Photograph: Reuters

Angola’s electoral commission has declared the incumbent president, João Lourenço, and the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) winners of last week’s elections.

The polls were the most tightly contested vote in the country’s democratic history, and have been described by analysts as an “existential moment”.

Lourenço can now serve a second term in charge of the oil-rich country while the MPLA will have governed Angola for more than 50 years by the time of the next scheduled election.

The MPLA won 51.17% of the vote, its worst ever result. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, got 43.95%, its highest score, according to the commission.

Adalberto Costa Júnior, the leader of Unita, has rejected the results, citing discrepancies between the commission’s count and the main opposition coalition’s own tally.

“Unita does not recognise the provisional results … We can affirm with total assurance that the MPLA did not win the elections,” he told reporters and supporters earlier on Monday.

Costa Júnior did not immediately respond to the final results announcement.

Analysts say the opposition will face a dilemma if they reject official results. To instigate a campaign of street protests would leave Unita open to accusations of deliberately fomenting disorder, but to seek redress through legal or other constitutional channels is unlikely to succeed.

The US called “on all parties to express themselves peacefully and to resolve any grievances in accordance with applicable legal processes under Angolan law”.

Observers from the African Union made a similar plea in the aftermath of the poll, though it acknowledged complaints that the MPLA benefited from multiple unfair advantages.

“While there were reports of an uneven playing field, the [mission] notes that elections were generally conducted in a peaceful manner,” it said.

The announcement of the results came a day after the funeral of Angola’s long-serving ex-ruler and MPLA stalwart, José Eduardo dos Santos, who died in Spain in July, so security in the capital, Luanda, was tight.

The elections in Angola have pitted veteran politicians in power for decades against a generation of young voters just beginning to grasp the potential to bring about a radical change. More than 60% of Angolans are under 24.

Lourenço, a Soviet-educated former general who had promised a new era when he succeeded dos Santos five years ago, is credited with enacting some reforms, including boosting financial transparency and efficiency in “parastatal organisations”, and promoting business-friendly policies to lure foreign investors.

However, the 68-year-old has largely failed to improve the lives of most of Angola’s 35 million inhabitants. Critics say a high-profile anti-corruption drive only targeted powerful enemies while Amnesty International has described “an unprecedented crackdown on human rights, including unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests, in the lead-up to the 24 August election”.

Though only eight years younger than the incumbent, Costa Júnior has tried to position himself as a representative of the young civil society and all those who have lost out under the years of MPLA rule.

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