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Angolans go to the polls in first peacetime election

Latest update : 2008-09-05

Polls opened on Friday in the oil-rich African state of Angola, which holds its first election in 16 years. The ruling left-wing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is widely expected to hold on to power.

Click here to watch our correspondents' report on the MPLA campaign

 

Click here to watch our correspondents' report on the UNITA campaign


Angolans head to the polls on Friday for the first time in 16 years in an election widely expected to extend the ruling party's more than three-decade control over the oil-rich African nation.

 

The parliamentary election, largely a race between the governing MPLA and the rival UNITA party, follows a month-long campaign marked by opposition allegations of intimidation and bias, but free of the violence that marred recent African polls.

 

The streets of the capital Luanda were festooned in a sea of red and black, the colours of the MPLA, as voters prepared to cast ballots at polling stations, which open at 0600 GMT. Just under half of Angola's 17 million people are registered to vote.

 

"It's a step forward that will enable the people to elect their candidates. We want things to go well this time around. Hopefully there will be no unrest," said a 32-year-old MPLA supporter who identified himself only as Emanuel.

 

Angola's last brush with an election ended in disaster in 1992 when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi withdrew from the second round of a presidential poll after accusing MPLA leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos of cheating his way to victory.

 

Savimbi then led his supporters back into the bush where the rebel group resumed a civil war. The 27-year conflict ended in 2002 after Savimbi was killed in an ambush.

 

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which took power after independence from Portugal in 1975, is brimming with confidence as it heads into the election against a fragmented and underfunded opposition.

 

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

 

Its supporters openly boast of the prospect that the party will boost its share of the 220-seat parliament, possibly winning the two-thirds majority that would allow it to make sweeping changes to the country's constitution.

 

The MPLA held 129 seats going into the election, with the remainder mostly controlled by UNITA. Twelve other small opposition parties are contesting the election.

 

Despite accusations he has turned a blind eye to corruption and glaring social ills, Dos Santos -- in power since 1979 -- is banking that voters will give the government credit for presiding over the country's economic boom.

 

Oil production has more than doubled since the end of the war to about two million barrels per day, helping fuel double-digit economic growth. Angola's gross domestic product grew more than 24 percent in 2007.

 

The country is also exerting increasing clout on the world stage as the newest member of OPEC and an emerging regional heavyweight in Africa. Angola is the biggest oil exporter to China and has won billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

 

UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), led by Isaias Samakuva, is pinning its hopes on discontent over the government's failure to dent the country's excruciating poverty and high unemployment.

 

Two-thirds of Angolans live on $2 a day and at least 40 percent of the workforce is unemployed.

 

"After so many years of (MPLA) government people are still poor. I'm sure that a lot of Angolans would like to see their lives improve," Samakuva said.

 

UNITA has also complained that the MPLA is getting too much free publicity from state-owned media and of low-level attacks on its supporters in the campaign, an allegation supported by U.S.-based campaigning group Human Rights Watch.

 

The government has denied the opposition's allegations and said that it is doing all it can to rebuild the nation after six years of peace. It declared Friday a national holiday to enable voters to get to the polls.

Date created : 2008-09-05

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