Angola’s main opposition party UNITA plans to hold a leadership contest in December with its head, Isaias Samakuva, facing calls for his resignation, state news agency Angop said.
Angop said Samakuva announced a leadership congress would be held in Luanda, capital of the oil-exporting southern African country, between Dec. 13 and Dec. 16.
UNITA faces the ruling MPLA party in a general election next year but has been embroiled in an internal dispute after a group of party figures in July accused Samakuva of trying to prolong his leadership without holding a congress, Reuters reports.
UNITA reacted by suspending 12 members of the so-called “Group of Reflection” for 45 days on Sept. 24, saying they had broken rules that protect party unity.
The suspended members include Abel Chivukuvuku, who has led criticism of Samakuva and is widely expected to challenge him for the UNITA leadership.
The Portuguese state news agency Lusa quoted a UNITA spokesman as saying the suspended party members would be allowed to stand for the leadership and that the importance of the internal struggle had been overstated.
“I don’t think there are opposing wings, it is a perception which has been created around some internal issues,” Lusa cited the spokesman as saying.
UNITA lost a 27-year civil war against President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ MPLA in 2002 and was then crushed in an election six years later, obtaining just 10 percent of the votes against its rival’s 82 percent.
Samakuva became leader of the party in 2003, a year after the death of UNITA founder Jonas Savimbi, and was re-elected for a second mandate in 2007.
He has been highly critical of dos Santos’ government, accusing it of not doing enough to increase transparency, protect human rights and fight widespread poverty in Angola, Africa’s second biggest oil producer after Nigeria.
UNITA’s internal struggle has not stopped it from raising tension with the MPLA ahead of the election. In July it accused the MPLA of stripping the national election committee of power and transferring control of logistics to the government.