Angola to back constitution for stronger president


Angola will next week approve a new constitution set to further strengthen the president’s three-decade hold, state radio said yesterday within days of a deadly rebel ambush on Togo’s visiting soccer team.

Although there was no official indication the new charter was being rushed through because of the embarrassing attack by a small separatist group in the Cabinda province, political analysts said that might have been a factor.

Surging oil output has transformed Angola after civil war and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is keen to present an image of stability and transparency, but a presidential ballot has been delayed repeatedly and corruption is widespread.

The constitution will keep the president as head of government and the armed forces. But it will replace the prime minister with a vice president, ensuring the presidency has even greater control.

The new constitution should also let dos Santos keep power without a direct ballot because the president is chosen as the leader of the party which wins the biggest share of the vote for parliament. The ruling MPLA took over 80% last year.

Taking a strong line against corruption, dos Santos has promised that as soon as the new constitution is passed he will form a smaller government with fewer opportunities for graft.

Parliament had been widely expected to vote on the new constitution in March, but Radio Nacional de Angola said it would be passed on Jan. 21. It cited members of parliament from the Constitutional Commission involved in the process.

Some commentators believed the attack in Cabinda last week could have helped sting Angola into action.

President’s powers

Two members of Togo’s delegation for the African Cup of Nations were killed aboard the team bus in Cabinda and it undermined Angola’s hopes of demonstrating its emergence from war by hosting Africa’s premier soccer championship.
“This is a distraction that will help rush the approval of the constitution which basically increases the president’s powers,” said Rafael Marques, an Angolan political analyst.

The UNITA opposition party complained the ruling party was rushing to approve the new charter.

Dos Santos, in power since 1979, faces no strong political rivals, but political analysts say that by removing the need for a direct ballot he will avoid the possibility of winning a smaller share of votes than the ruling party.

The 67-year old leader has repeatedly delayed elections since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002. He recently said elections should only take place after the current government’s mandate runs out in 2012.

Dos Santos has made a popular anti-corruption appeal in the country of 16.5 million, where an estimated two-thirds get less than $2 a day despite the fact Angola vies with Nigeria as Africa’s top oil producer and is also a big diamond miner.

His family members and inner circle hold huge sway over Angolan business, however, and some are among the richest people on the continent. Angola is in the world’s 18 most corrupt countries, according to watchdog Transparency International.

Pic: President Jose Edurdo dos Santos of Angola