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30 Aug 2012 07:00
MPLA leader José Eduardo dos Santos made one final campaign ahead of Angola's elections on Friday. (AFP)
President José Dos Santos, already in office for more than 33 years, has campaigned on his MPLA party's multibillion-dollar drive to pour the nation's oil wealth into building roads, schools and clinics to pull the nation from the ashes of war.
That oil wealth has also helped his family, particularly his daughter Isabel, assemble a business empire whose largesse was on full display in the carefully choreographed tribute to the man who dominates Angolan politics.
Speaking on a stage outside the country's biggest stadium on the final day of election campaigning on Wednesday, he acknowledged the problems facing the country that has created one of the world's fastest-growing economies but left the majority of its people in abject poverty.
"We know the challenges that Angola faces. We are a realistic, pragmatic party," he told tens of thousands of cheering supporters for the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
Dos Santos said he wanted "everyone to feel part of the grand project to make Angola a prosperous and democratic country".
He also urged private business to join government in creating jobs for young Angolans, in a country where more than half the population is under 18 and unemployment is at 30%.
The rally was designed like a well-branded street carnival with jumbo screens, thumping music by local pop stars praising the party, and tens of thousands of people – mostly bused in for the party.
The event is his last campaign stop before Friday's general elections, when the MPLA is expected to easily win.
Thursday is a day of deliberation before the voting.
The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) held a far smaller event late on Wednesday, gathering a few hundred supporters in the sprawling neighbourhood of Viana.
Unita leader Isaias Samakuva repeated his criticism of the elections preparations, and said he would seek a meeting with Dos Santos to find ways of resolving them.
"We are going to propose a conversation with the candidate and president ...
Speaking alongside a banner reading "united for change", Samakuva said 2 000 of the party's election monitors had yet to receive accreditation.
"Many Angolans' names don't appear on the voter roll, and in many places the voter roll has not been released," he said.
"We have come to the conclusion that the National Electoral Commission is not ready. The conditions don't exist to ensure the minimum of an organised, transparent process."
Unita is also facing a challenge from the Casa party, a breakaway formed by Abel Chivukuvuku along with a top MPLA figure, smaller opposition groups and key figures from civil society.
He's heavily courted young voters with promises of jobs and better living conditions, issues that resonate with many who had little direct experience of war and now eye Luanda's sparkling new skyscrapers with envy.
Angola's last elections were judged overall as legitimate, but this time the voting will take place with far fewer observers. The European Union sent the biggest team last time, but only sent two technical experts this year due to the costs of working in Luanda, one of the world's most expensive cities.
Civic groups are stepping in, but their abilities are limited in a country that keeps a tight lid on their activities.
Despite efforts to contain dissent, Dos Santos has been rattled by a series of protests since last year by young activists, not linked to any party, taking to the streets to demand jobs, housing, water and electricity.
The protests have been small and quickly repressed, but clearly unnerved a government that tolerates little public dissent. Security forces quickly squashed the demos, often beating the activists.
Young unemployed men at the Unita rally bemoaned their treatment at the hands of security forces, saying they just wanted to raise the issue of unemployment.
"The Chinese come here to work, and we have no jobs," said Raul Mandela (27). – AFP
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