Angola's Lourenco Rallies Voters; Opponents Threaten ProtestBy and
Ruling MPLA candidate vows diversification after Aug. 23 vote
Outgoing president Dos Santos has ruled Angola for 38 years
The presidential candidate from Angola’s ruling party, Joao Lourenco, promised to push hard to diversify the oil-rich African nation’s economy, while his fragmented opposition questioned the fairness of next week’s vote and threatened to hold protests.
In the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola’s last campaign gathering ahead of the Aug. 23 vote, Lourenco predicted the MPLA would win with a two-thirds majority, in line with recent polling. The victor will replace the retiring President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who attended the rally and whose 38 years in power, presiding over an oil boom and bust since the end of a decades-long civil war, make him the continent’s second-longest-serving ruler.
Angola, Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, is struggling to overcome the worst economic crisis since emerging from a civil war in 2002. Opposition parties have blamed the MPLA, in power since Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975, for widespread corruption and for not doing enough to fight poverty.
"We believe that with your vote we will erect an economy based on farming, industry, tourism, fishing and other important sectors," Lourenco, 63, said in a speech in the Camama district, on the outskirts of the capital, Luanda, as thousands of supporters dressed in the red and black colors of his party cheered on. "We can compete in the international market and export quality products made in Angola."
Angola, which depends on oil for more than 90 percent of its export earnings, is struggling to recover from a drop in crude prices, which are down more than 50 percent since mid-2014. After expanding for 14 consecutive years, the economy posted zero growth last year and is forecast to expand 1.3 percent in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund. About a third of Angola’s 27 million citizens live in poverty, data complied by the World Bank shows.
"Angola’s economy is going through a less good moment, which means the difficulties the people face have increased," said Lourenco, who is currently the country’s defense minister. "But the people will vote for the MPLA because they know that the MPLA will guarantee the continuation of a peaceful, free and democratic Angola."
The MPLA is competing for votes against five parties that include the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, which fought the MPLA in a 27-year civil war; Casa-CE, formed by a former Unita deputy leader; and the smaller FNLA, PRS and APN parties. A poll last month predicted the MPLA would win with 61 percent of the vote.
Transparency International has ranked Angola among the world’s 20 most corrupt nations for the past three years. 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.
"After 42 years with the same party in power, there is no medicine available in our hospitals," Abel Chivukuvuku, leader of Casa-CE, said Saturday at a campaign rally in Uige, northern Angola. "Who is to blame for all this suffering? The leaders of the MPLA. They’ve used up the country’s money for their own gain."
Later on Saturday, officials from parties including Unita and Casa-CE threatened to hold street protests if the National Electoral Commission didn’t implement the necessary measures to guarantee a fair vote. They alleged overwhelming coverage of the ruling party’s campaign by state-owned media and criticized the allocation of polling stations to voters who live in different areas, as well as problems registering opposition officials to monitor the vote.
"We’re considering all kinds of measures, except abandoning the vote," Andre Mendes de Carvalho, vice-president of Casa-CE, said at a joint press conference in Luanda with other opposition party officials. "If these serious mistakes aren’t corrected, there is no way we can accept the outcome of the vote."