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Voting in Angola resumes amid controversy

Voting in Angola’s parliamentary election resumed on Saturday for an unscheduled second day amid charges the poll had been chaotic and violated the African nation’s electoral law.

The election, Angola’s first for 16 years, is largely a race between the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).

It has been keenly watched by the international community because of controversy marring recent African polls and Angola’s emergence as a major oil producer.

Hopes the poll would go smoothly foundered early on Friday when scores of polling stations failed to open on time and others did so hours late, preventing many residents in Luanda province from casting ballots.

Angola’s electoral commission extended the voting into Saturday as a result of the problems. A spokesperson for the commission said voting began at 320 polling stations on Saturday morning and was expected to be completed by 6pm GMT.

Problems with voter registration lists were cited as the main cause of the delays, which were concentrated in Luanda province, home to more than 20% of Angola’s 8,3-million registered voters.

International observers expressed concern at the failure to provide the lists.

”The law was broken because the electoral registration was not distributed,” said Luisa Morgantini, who is leading a 120-member European Union team. ”We cannot say the process was done according to the rules.”

Morgantini said Angola’s election officials should consider meeting international observers to discuss the problems.

Demand for new poll
Unita and other opposition parties have condemned the poll and demanded that it be held again.

Unita leader Isaias Samakuva described the process on Friday as a ”mess”, and it was not clear whether the voting extension would mollify his party.

Tensions between Unita and the MPLA have simmered since the former rebel group ended its 27-year war against the state in 2002.

In the run-up to the poll, Unita accused the MPLA of using state funds for its campaign and the state-run media to publicise its cause. It also said its supporters had been harassed, a charge backed by United States-based Human Rights Watch.

The government has denied any electoral wrongdoing.

The MPLA, which has governed the country since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to win the election. The party had held 129 of 220 parliamentary seats, with the remainder controlled by Unita and a handful of smaller parties.

Angola’s government has touted the poll as a showcase for its recovery from the civil war and hopes that it will spur further foreign investment. Angola rivals Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producer.

Angolans last voted in 1992 in joint parliamentary and presidential elections. Then, the presidential race was aborted after Unita leader Jonas Savimbi withdrew, 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 its war against the government. An estimated half-a-million people died in the conflict, which ended after Savimbi was killed in an ambush in 2002. — Reuters

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Paul Simao
Guest Author

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