For Angola ruling party, 5 more years

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LUANDA, Angola | President Jose Eduardo dos Santos‘ ruling party has won 73 percent of the national vote, assuring his government, in power for 32 years, a further five years in office.

With 85 percent of the vote counted from Friday’s balloting, the state election commission said Sunday that the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, garnered a large majority. The MPLA will control Angola’s 220-seat legislature, but the party’s margin of victory is down from the 82 percent that it won in 2008.

The largest opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, won 18 percent of the vote, nearly twice its share from 2008. A newcomer party, the Broad Convergence for Angola’s Salvation-Electoral Coalition, or CASA-CE, won 5 percent. Both opposition parties criticized the elections as neither free nor fair.

The elections were largely peaceful and relatively well-organized in this former Portuguese colony of 21 million that is Africa’s second-largest oil producer, according to a diplomatic observer.

“We didn’t witness one single case of coercion of intimidation. People voted freely throughout the country,” said Leonardo Simao, chief of the observing mission of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.

He said the turnout of 57 percent of the 9 million eligible voters was good, particularly among women and youths.

“If there are people who have witnessed wrongdoings or violations of the law, they should use legal procedures to bring forward their grievances,” Mr. Simao said.

African Union observers declared the election to be “free, just, transparent and credible,” said Pedro Pires, chief of the mission, although he noted that opposition parties did not have equal access to the state media and that Angolans living abroad could not vote.

Others, however, were more critical of the election process.

“This was all prepared during the electoral process,” said Elias Isaac of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa. “The only surprise for me is that the ruling party did not get 90 percent.”

He said many abstained from voting.

“The whole system was built to exclude and prevent people from heading to the polls,” he complained.

On a positive note, Mr. Isaac said, “CASA-CE has done very well” for such a new party, “especially given the context of a virtual one-party system.”

“But real change will only come when the electoral process is managed by independent, critical people,” he added.

Friday’s elections were Angola’s second since the end of the 27-year civil war between the MPLA and UNITA, which lasted from 1975 to 2002, and the third since independence. On Sept. 20, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his MPLA party will mark 33 years in power.

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