Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos announced this week that his country would go to the polls at the end of 2012.
Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos announced this week that his country would go to the polls at the end of 2012, but he stopped short of saying whether he would stand for re-election.
Dos Santos rivals Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang for the title of Africa’s longest-serving leader, depending on whether you count from the date of Obiang’s coup—August 1979—or from when he was officially sworn in as president in October 1979.
Direct presidential elections were abolished by a new Constitution in Angola last year and the head of state is now chosen from a party list based on votes in the legislature.
Dos Santos has not faced a proper election in his 32 years of power because the ballot in 1992 was never completed. He could therefore stand for another two five-year terms.
There are two likely succession scenarios: either Dos Santos will stand down in December when the party lists are announced, or he will wait until after the ruling MPLA wins the election before stepping down. The MPLA holds 82% of the vote and the opposition is weak.
A senior MPLA deputy said the party had not discussed replacing Dos Santos yet.
Under Angola’s new Constitution, if a president leaves office mid-term the vice-president takes over until a new election can be held. Analysts see this as a ploy by Dos Santos to engineer his succession and maintain control of the MPLA.
Stability and economic turnaround
Speculation is rife that Manuel Vicente, chairman of Sonangol, the country’s powerful state oil company, could be a contender for the vice-presidency. The incumbent, Fernando Piedade Dias dos Santos, or “Nando”, has been in poor health for some months and is unlikely to stand again.
President Dos Santos is credited with the stability and economic turnaround in Angola since the civil war ended in 2002 after three decades of conflict. But the 69-year-old leader has come under fire because of the length of his rule, widespread allegations of corruption in his family and inner circle and the government’s failure to provide the masses with adequate basic services.
There has been an unprecedented spate of anti-government protests in recent months in which small groups of mostly young people with no fixed political affiliation have taken to the streets to call for change.
Last Saturday about 700 people stopped traffic in one of Luanda’s main roads for several hours, carrying banners stating “Down with the dictator” and “32 years is too long”.
The authorities’ initial reaction when the protests began in March was to lock up the demonstrators and there have been reports of undercover security officers starting fights among the crowds.
Portuguese and Angolan journalists also claim that they have been attacked and their photographic equipment and material destroyed, leaving them unable to show photographs and videos of the protests.
The state-controlled media and media privately owned by government figures have carried strong condemnations of the protests by senior MPLA and government figures.
But last week the Angola Supreme Court ordered that 18 youths convicted of public-order offences after a September 3 protest should be freed because of a lack of evidence.
And, in an apparent sign of his growing nervousness, Dos Santos used his annual state of the nation address this week to deny that his rule constituted a dictatorship.
“There is no basis whatsoever to the claim that Angola is ruled by a dictatorial regime that doesn’t recognise citizens’ rights and freedoms,” he told the Angolan Parliament on Tuesday. “On the contrary, in the country there is a new democracy which is lively, dynamic and participatory and which is being consolidated every day.”
The MPLA’s director of information, Rui Falcao Pinto de Andrade, brushed off suggestions that the party was nervous about the recent protests and denied that Angola was witnessing the start of an “Arab Spring”.