From peace to polls, Angola steps closer to legitimacy

Six years after the end of a devastating civil war, polls in oil-rich Angola have cemented peace, legitimising its democracy in what the country hopes will set an example to the rest of the continent, analysts said on Wednesday.

As the country voted last weekend for the first time in 16 years, many feared a repeat of election crises unfolding elsewhere in the region, but the historic poll passed with little disruption to day-to-day life.

Foreign observers from the European Union, the African Union and Southern Africa said the vote was free and transparent, though the EU criticised organisational weaknesses, procedural inconsistencies and an uneven playing field for candidates.

The ruling left-wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), in government for more than 30 years, kept its firm grip on power with an overwhelming 82% of the votes according to partial results.

The MPLA fought the rebel Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) for three decades in one of the worst wars on the African continent. A 1992 attempt to hold elections during a lull in fighting failed as contested results led to renewed bloodshed.

Peace came with the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002, and this time around Unita quickly accepted its massive loss at the polls, defying a recent trend in countries such as Zimbabwe and Kenya, where contested elections led to bloodshed and political crises.

“It has been shown in Africa that defeat in elections is not always followed by a tolerant position that characterises a good loser,” the state-run Jornal de Angola said in an editorial titled “The Angolan example”.

“There is no lack of false prophets who predicted Angola would experience similar unhappy experiences that occurred in some countries on the continent,” it said.

Zimbabwe is still locked in a stalemate after March elections that President Robert Mugabe lost narrowly to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Violence against his supporters led Tsvangirai to pull out of a run-off, handing victory to Mugabe and leading to protracted talks on a power-sharing deal as the country reels from economic and political upheaval.

Earlier this year, about 800 people were killed and thousands displaced when a disputed election in Kenya led to bloodshed, which was resolved only through a coalition government.

“It is no secret that Angola does want to be an important player in Africa to rival South Africa. It is their ambition, not just in regional politics, but in global politics as well,” said Angola researcher Indira Campos of independent think-tank Chatham House, based in London.

Angola recently took over as chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC’s) troika on peace, security and defence, giving President José Eduardo dos Santos a chance to make an impact on regional politics.

“With Zimbabwe, he tried to play a role. But people can always say: ‘What moral high ground have you got if your government hasn’t been elected’?” Campos said.

“This time around it would be in a better position to have a say in the region.”

The big unknown is what the MPLA will do to the Constitution now that it has obtained a two-thirds majority, needed to push through constitutional changes.

Dos Santos has promised to get rid of people who are corrupt and not “working accordingly”, but many are sceptical about the promises of a government often accused of squandering state revenues on flashy lifestyles while the country’s people live in squalor.

“If the government has 80 % of the vote it will be held 80% responsible for its actions. That is a very big responsibility to take into their hands,” said Campos.—AFP s

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