Angolans cast their ballots in the first election to choose a president in two decades with a booming oil economy and a divided opposition expected to help Jose Eduardo dos Santos extend his 32-year rule.
Polls were closed by 7:30 p.m. in Luanda, the capital, after hours were extended at some stations to ensure all who wanted to vote were able to, Angolan National Radio reported. Preliminary results are scheduled to be released tomorrow afternoon, Bornito de Sousa, a spokesman for the Ministry of Territorial Administration, told reporters.
Dos Santos’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola is expected to easily win the most seats in the 220-member legislature and earn the right to name the president of Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, according to analysts at Chatham House and Global Insight. The MPLA won 82 percent four years ago in the first election since a 27-year civil war ended in 2002. The last vote for president was a direct ballot in 1992.
The MPLA, under the slogan “Angola, growing more and distributing better,” pledged to maintain the stability it credits for spurring an economy that may expand 6.8 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and promised to ease some of the world’s most severe poverty.
“We’re confident,” Dos Santos, 70, said after voting at a private college outside his palace in the Cidade Alta section of Luanda, the capital. He emerged from the polling station flashing a V-sign with his wife and was joined by Antonio Jose Maria, the chief of military intelligence, and Manuel Helder Vieira Dias, a top military adviser known as Kopelipa.
Angola pumps about 1.8 million barrels of crude a day, supplying 2.9 percent of U.S. imported oil in May and 16 percent of China’s as of July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Oil producers operating in the country include Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP Plc and Total SA.
Isaias Samakuva, leader of the main opposition party, the former rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, criticized the conduct of the election and said he may seek court action after voting at a university in Luanda’s south.
“We would like to have a better organized process,” he told reporters. “The experiences of 1992 and 2008 convinced us that we can do an alternative to this confused process.”
In Luanda province, the most populous of 18 in the southwest African country, 2,700 Unita vote monitors weren’t accredited, including at the polling station where Samakuva cast his ballot, he said. Yesterday he asked for Dos Santos to postpone the election because of “irregularities.” The president and the MPLA didn’t reply.
Dos Santos’s running mate is Manuel Domingos Vicente, former chairman of the national oil company, Sonangol EP, who was chosen over more senior MPLA members.
“The real challenge is within the party and not with the opposition parties,” Markus Weimer, coordinator of the Angola Forum at Chatham House, a London-based research group, said on Aug. 27 by phone. “It’s more about the internal party dynamics.”
Voting was well organized and people were orderly, Teresa Amado, an observer with the national election commission, said on Angolan television.
“I see with amazement that the state has run a critical project well and Angolans are happy,” Joao Pedro dos Santos, 34 and no relation to the president, said after voting in the Luanda neighborhood of Hoje-Ya-Henda. “Things are running peacefully.”
The African Union, the Southern African Development Community and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries were the only international groups with election monitors, Elias Isaac, country director for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, a pro-democracy group funded by George Soros, said by phone in Luanda.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Open Society weren’t allowed to send monitors, Isaac said, while accreditation for several embassies was delayed and not granted in some cases.
Julia Ferreira, a spokeswoman for the commission, attributed the delays to late submission of documents.
The commission approved almost 98,000 polling station monitors from political parties across the country, Ferreira told the Angola Press news agency yesterday.
Human Rights Watch described the atmosphere around the vote as “one of increasing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly and media freedom.”
Public discontent with the president and the government spilled onto the streets of Luanda this year as mainly young protesters pushed for democracy and an end to corruption.
Casa-Ce, an offshoot of Unita led by Abel Chivukuvuku, said yesterday police detained more than 10 of the party’s youth wing, including its leader, Rafael Aguiar. The group had planned to hold a vigil to protest a lack of accreditation for party delegates to monitor polling, according to its website.
Unita campaigned about the failure of Angola’s oil wealth, which increased foreign reserves to a record $30.2 billion in June, to cut poverty and unemployment.
More than half the population of about 19 million is under 18, while 54 percent of the country lived on less than $1.25 in 2009, according to United Nations Children’s Fund. Transparency International ranked Angola at 168 of 182 countries in its 2011 corruption index.
“Angola is very much a two-tiered system where you have, on the one hand, the offshore economy with oil revenue coming in and financial services in a sort of boom town, and on the other side there’s poverty,” Weimer said. “It’s obvious there’s a massive difference between rich and poor.”
Luanda has about five million residents, many living in slums of concrete blocks, with dirt floors and open sewage drains. It’s also the world’s second-most expensive city for expatriates, according to the Mercer LCC Cost of Living Index.
Angola’s life expectancy is 47 years, according to the World Bank. The under-five mortality rate is the world’s eighth highest at 161 deaths per 1,000 children, according to Unicef.
Angola’s oil wealth ensures that the government isn’t too concerned about international criticism of its rights record, said Sebastian Boe, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.
“The government is comfortable in the calculation that Angolan oil production precludes significant reprisals or sanctions,” Boe said in an e-mail.