Angola Ruling Party Candidate ‘a Chauffeur,’ Opposition SaysBy and
Opposition party chief questions clout of elections rival
President Dos Santos to step down after 38 years in power
Angolan ruler Jose Eduardo dos Santos will keep his grip on power if his party wins elections this month, even as he steps down as president after 38 years in office, according to the country’s main opposition leader.
The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola has picked 63-year-old Defense Minister Joao Lourenco as its presidential candidate for the Aug. 23 vote. Dos Santos will remain the party’s chairman and has appointees in the security services that will probably stay in their posts under a new law passed by parliament last month.
After decades as president, Dos Santos is now set to direct the government from behind the scenes, according to Isaias Samakuva, head of the opposition National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola, or Unita.
“Lourenco will be just a chauffeur, with the boss sitting in the back seat and directing him where to turn, when to accelerate, to slow down and when to stop,” Samakuva said in an Aug. 15 interview in the capital, Luanda. “Lourenco didn’t win his candidacy via a contest or party election.”
Sergio Luther Rescova, a spokesman for the MPLA, as the ruling party is known, didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.
Dos Santos, 74, steered the country through a protracted civil war against Unita and oversaw an oil boom that made it sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest economy. But he’s been criticized for enabling family members and allies to accumulate massive fortunes, while not doing enough for those who languish in poverty.
With an estimated net wealth of $2.3 billion, the president’s eldest daughter, Isabel, is Africa’s richest woman, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. At the same time, Angola’s child and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
During its campaign, the MPLA has vowed to improve the lives of ordinary Angolans and fight corruption. Unita has pledged to offer Angolans a “new life,” saying it wants to steer the country in a different direction.
Angola, which depends on oil for more than 90 percent of its export earnings, is struggling to recover from a drop in crude prices. After expanding for 14 consecutive years, the economy posted zero growth last year. Lourenco told the Washington Post in an interview earlier this year that the government should invest in agriculture, cattle raising and fisheries to reduce its reliance on oil.
Founded in 1966, Unita was a rebel group that fought the MPLA during the civil war before abandoning armed struggle at the death of its leader, Jonas Savimbi, who was killed by government troops in 2002. Samakuva, 71, came to head the party a year later. Unita lost general elections to the MPLA in 2008 and 2012. Next week, the ruling party is expected to win with 61 percent of votes, according to a poll posted on the website of the Institute Jean Piaget of Benguela in Portugal.
Samakuva has said that opposition parties are struggling to make their voices heard in Angola’s state-owned media, which gives more airtime to the MPLA. In the interview, he questioned the independence of the National Electoral Commission because 10 of the 17 officials in the commission have been appointed by the MPLA.
“Whatever decision needs to be taken on any issue, they’ll have an absolute majority,” Samakuva said.
Julia Ferreira, a spokeswoman for the electoral commission, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Asked whether Unita will accept the outcome of the poll should it result in defeat by the ruling party, Samakuva replied: “Only if that is the will of the people expressed in the ballots.”