- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

LUANDA, Angola | The leader of Angola’s largest opposition party said on Sunday that he was contesting the results of the country’s parliamentary election, which showed the ruling party headed for a landslide victory.

The dispute over the poll, the first to be held in 16 years, threatens to shatter the fragile political stability that has existed since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002 and could dent the oil-rich nation’s standing among foreign investors.

The international community has been watching the vote closely after tarnished elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya, hoping that the former Portuguese colony would defy its own history and emerge from the election with political consensus.

However, Isaias Samakuva - leader of UNITA, or National Union for the Total Independence of Angola - said the two-day vote had been badly flawed, with polling stations opening late or not at all and officials failing to properly confirm the identify of voters on registration lists. He vowed to contest the results.

“The facts suggest that the final results of this election might not rigorously reflect the wishes expressed in the ballot box by the Angolan people,” Mr. Samakuva told a news conference at his party’s office in the capital Luanda.

When asked whether he was challenging the validity of the poll, Mr. Samakuva said: “That’s right.” UNITA has demanded that voting be redone and vowed to take its battle to the Constitutional Court.

Government-run media lashed out at Mr. Samakuva, saying his complaints amounted to sour grapes and urging him to reconsider for the sake of the Angolan people. “He should focus on rebuilding his party,” a presenter on state television said.

But others said it was important that the former rebel group’s complaints be investigated.

“All the citizens have to respect the right of UNITA to challenge the results based on possible problems with the vote. That is fundamental,” said Fernando Macedo, a law professor at Luanda’s Lusiada University.

Preliminary results, based on nearly 61 percent of the vote, show the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) with about 82 percent of the national vote compared with a little more than 10 percent for UNITA and leading in all of the country’s 18 provinces.

The numbers, if they hold, represent a stunning collapse in support for the opposition and an overwhelming mandate for the ruling party, which has been in power since independence from Portugal in 1975.

International monitors appear split over whether to give the Angolan election a quick and clean bill of health.

Observers from the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional body that includes Angola, have said the poll was credible, transparent and free. But a European Union mission has raised concerns about irregularities.

Voting began on Friday but was extended into Saturday because of delays and confusion at polling stations in Luanda province, home to 21 percent of Angola’s 8.3 million voters.

The government has denied any electoral wrongdoing but admitted that there had been administrative glitches in some areas, particularly around Luanda. Officials have 15 days to announce the full results.

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