Angola’s long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his MPLA party scored a landslide win on Saturday in an election criticised as one-sided and not credible by opponents and civil society activists, according to provisional results.
The results from Friday’s voting announced by the National Elections Commission showed the governing party with 74 percent of the vote – far ahead of its nearest rivals with votes counted from over 70 percent of polling stations.
Under a new constitution introduced in 2010, the MPLA win means Dos Santos, who turned 70 this week, is elected for a further five-year term on top of the nearly 33 years he has already served as leader of Africa’s No. 2 oil producer.
Angola’s seaside capital was calm and there were no signs of any celebration or uproar in the streets, which indicated the overwhelming MPLA victory in only the third election since independence from Portugal in 1975 was widely anticipated.
Silver-haired Dos Santos is Africa’s second longest serving leader after Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
The provisional results gave the MPLA’s closest challenger, former rebel group UNITA, nearly 18 percent, while the third-placed CASA-CE party was approaching five percent in its first election test after being formed by UNITA dissident Abel Chivukuvuku four months ago.
Chivukuvuku told reporters his party, which along with UNITA had complained repeatedly of serious irregularities in the vote preparations and the electoral process, was analysing the results before deciding whether to accept or reject them.
But another prominent CASA-CE member, candidate for Luanda William Tonet, dismissed the provisional results as “cheating taken to its maximum level”.
“This is like a declaration of war by the MPLA … it indicates to citizens that there can be no alternative through the electoral route,” he told Reuters.
Sources at UNITA said party president Isaias Samakuva would challenge the announced results.
Friday’s vote passed smoothly and without any serious incidents, according to officials and election observers.
As they cast their ballots, many citizens called however for better power, water, health and education services and a more equal share-out of the country’s oil wealth.
It was the second election since the end a decade ago of a 27-year civil war in which Dos Santos’ MPLA emerged victorious over UNITA. The MPLA then crushed its rival politically by obtaining 82 percent of the vote in the last 2008 elections.
An oil boom fuelled rapid growth averaging 15 percent a year between 2002 and 2008 and prospects for national economic growth remain buoyant, but distribution of this wealth among Angola’s 18 million people has been very unequal.
Thrusting new buildings and construction cranes punctuate the bayside skyline of the seaside capital Luanda, but sprawling poor slums known as “musseques” fringe the overcrowded city.
Dos Santos had campaigned on a platform portraying him as a guarantor of peace combined with a pledge to spread the country’s riches more evenly and widely among the population.
One of Angola’s leading civil society activists, Elias Isaac, Angola country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), a pro-democracy NGO, said the results showing an easy MPLA win came as no surprise.
He criticised the fact that ballot tally sheets from the more than 10,000 polling stations across the country were not being posted publicly at the voting centres themselves but were being announced centrally by the electoral authorities.
“There is no transparency … there is no credibility in the process,” Isaac told Reuters.
MPLA officials hailed the initial results as a confirmation of the ruling party’s enduring support in a rapidly-growing oil producer that still bears the scars of the long civil war in damaged buildings and the mutilated limbs of landmine victims.
“These results show that the MPLA continues to be the party of the people and that we obtained a majority that will allow us to keep on growing the country in stability,” MPLA spokesman Rui Falcao told Reuters.
But the month of campaigning had revealed a significant groundswell of discontent among ordinary Angolans unhappy about the unequal distribution of their country’s oil wealth.
“President dos Santos and the MPLA are aware that increasing numbers of Angolans expect their government to provide better services, jobs and prosperity,” said Alex Vines, an expert on Angola at London-based think tank Chatham House.
“This will remain a major challenge for the government, that suffers from systemic inefficiencies and a limited pool of skilled people to draw upon,” he added.
Opponents and civil society critics say Dos Santos has created a “one-person state” marked by rampant corruption and conspicuous enrichment of a small elite, including his family.
“The country is not going to change … we will still be in a system that is controlled by one man,” OSISA’s Isaac said.
The MPLA’s monolithic hold on the state, oil revenues and most local media gave it clear campaign advantages over UNITA, CASA-CE and six other smaller coalitions and parties that fielded candidates.
The MPLA’s dominance reflects Dos Santos’ more than three decades in power during which the reserved Soviet-trained oil engineer, with military help from Cuba and the Soviet Union, survived Cold War offensives by South African apartheid forces and defeated first the FNLA and then UNITA in the civil war.
“These elections finally allow him to claim a democratic mandate, but he knows that having served as President since 1979, pressure is growing on him to retire,” Vines said.
“Succession will remain one of the greatest uncertainties over the next few years,” he added.