Angolans face delay in poll

Mixed messages from the Angolan government about the timing of elections have raised doubts about whether Angolans will indeed go to the polls in 2006, as promised by the government over the past year.

Two senior officials responsible for the country’s first poll since 1992 recently made contradictory statements about whether election preparations were running according to schedule.

Elections were delayed by civil war for 10 years, but the 2002 peace accord raised expectations that the government would once again call a poll.

Paulo Somba, director of elections in the Ministry of Territorial Administration, said voter registration “will no longer be conducted during the [2005] dry season as initially planned”.

The dry season in most of Angola lasts from May to September.

Somba’s remarks sparked fears that registration would not be completed in time for the government to meet its promised deadline of elections in 2006.

His boss, Minister Virgílio Fontes Pereira, hastily tried to assure the public that elections would go ahead as promised.

“The degree of difficulties that exists is very high, with the country in a worse situation than before the 1992 elections, but we believe we must not lose hope in managing to mobilise all the resources for the elections to be held in 2006,” Pereira said.

But opposition figures and independent commentators question the government’s commitment to a 2006 poll; they point to the fact that President José Eduardo dos Santos has delayed signing a package of electoral laws already approved by Parliament.

Until these laws come into effect, the National Electoral Council (NEC) cannot be constituted — hence the delay in voter registration that Somba spoke of.

If elections do happen in 2006 there are doubts about whether they can be free and fair, given the ruling MPLA’s tight grip on local administration, the government’s domination of the media and mistrust between the MPLA and Unita after 27 years of war.

Thousands of Angolans, many of them former combatants or recently returned refugees who are more likely to be opposition supporters, lack identity documents.

Adalberto Da Costa, spokesperson for the Unita opposition movement, says Unita is concerned about incidents of violence in several provinces from which the party has traditionally drawn support.

“This campaign of intolerance is the responsibility of municipal administrators who are also the local secretaries of the MPLA.”

The weaker the NEC, the greater the influence MPLA-run local administrations will have over the conduct of the poll.

Some opposition figures believe that while a 2006 election is still a possibility, the slow process up to now will work to the ruling party’s advantage.

Filomeno Vieira Lopes of the Front for Democracy — a political movement that has grown out of civil society — believes “the MPLA is delaying so the electoral bodies will not be able to operate normally — they will be under pressure”.

In any case, doubts surround the impartiality of the NEC — the 11-member commission will include only three members nominated by the opposition parties. The MPLA can nominate another three, with the remaining five being appointed by various branches of government, who are likely to choose MPLA-aligned nominees.

Political commentator Justino Pinto de Andrade made the comparison with Mozambique, where an election commission dominated by party political representatives was blamed for much of the mistrust that surrounded the counting of votes after the December 2004 elections.

The composition of the NEC “was an MPLA proposal, and it is very favourable to the MPLA — there is no representation from civil society at all,” Andrade says.

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