The leader of Angola’s largest opposition party said on Sunday 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.
Unita leader Isaias Samakuva, however, 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,” Samakuva told a news conference at his party’s office in the capital Luanda.
When asked if he was challenging the validity of the poll, Samakuva said: ”That’s right.” Unita (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) has demanded a re-vote and vowed to take its battle to the Constitutional Court.
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.
The EU team is expected to deliver its report on Monday.
Voting began on Friday but was extended into Saturday because of delays and confusion at polling stations in Luanda province, home to 21% of Angola’s 8,3-million voters.
The government has denied any electoral wrongdoing, while admitting there had been administrative glitches in some areas.
Preliminary results, based on slightly more than two-thirds of the vote, show the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) with about 82% of the national vote versus 10,5% for Unita and leading in all 18 provinces.
Officials have 15 days to release the final results, but it is expected that they will be announced this week.
The numbers, if they hold, represent a stunning collapse in support for the opposition and an overwhelming mandate for the ruling party, in power since independence from Portugal in 1975.
The MPLA won 54% to Unita’s 34% in the last parliamentary election in 1992. The poll was overshadowed by a parallel presidential race that ended when Unita leader Jonas Savimbi withdrew from a second round after accusing President JosÃ© Eduardo dos Santos of cheating his way to victory.
Savimbi resumed his guerrilla war against Dos Santos’ government, and the conflict dragged on for a decade before concluding in 2002 after the Unita chief was killed in an ambush. Half a million people died in the war.
Government-run media lashed out at Samakuva and his party, saying their complaints amounted to sour grapes.
”Unita is trying to explain away its collapse at the polls,” Juliao Dino Matrosse, the secretary general of the MPLA, told the state-controlled Angop news agency.
But others said it was important 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.
Luanda touted the ballot as a showcase for its recovery from the war and hopes it will spur foreign investment for its booming economy. Angola rivals Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producer.
Investors and oil firms are generally comfortable with the current government, which abandoned Marxism in the early 1990s and embraced foreign investment. Angola’s economy grew by more than 24% in 2007.
But the prospect the MPLA could win two-thirds of the 220-seat Parliament, giving it the power to change the constitution, could raise concerns in markets and Western capitals. It held 129 seats going into the election. – Reuters