Provisional results on Thursday from ballot counting in Angola’s election indicate the ruling party MPLA, in power for nearly five decades, holds a strong lead over the main opposition UNITA, which said the initial outcome was not reliable.
With 33 per cent of the votes counted, the National Electoral Commission (CNE) said the first provisional results showed the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led since 2017 by President Joao Lourenco, garnered 60.65 per cent of the vote.
The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola’s (UNITA), the opposition party led by Adalberto Costa Junior, received 33.85 per cent, CNE said.
Since independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola has been run by the MPLA.
Political analysts believed UNITA had its best-ever chance of victory yet as millions of youth left out of its oil-fuelled booms were likely to express frustration with nearly five decades of MPLA rule.
Abel Chivukuvuku, UNITA’s vice-presidential candidate, said the provisional results were not reliable and the party would publish its own based on a parallel vote count using the same data as the CNE.
“Tomorrow morning we will have clearer and more concrete indicators and whoever wants to celebrate will…I hope it’s us,” Chivukuvuku told a news conference.
The election was widely seen as the country’s most competitive in decades.
An Afrobarometer survey in May showed UNITA increasing its share to 22 per cent, from 13 per cent in 2019.
That is still seven points behind the MPLA, but nearly half of voters were undecided. Many young people – under 25s make up 60 per cent of the southern African country – were voting for the first time.
Angola is Africa’s second biggest oil producer, but as with many poor nations sitting on oil wealth, decades of pumping billions of barrels of crude has done little for most except jack up the cost of living.
Half of Angolans live in poverty and more than half of under-25s are unemployed. In the capital Luanda, one of the world’s most expensive cities, jobless people ply petty trade in trash-strewn streets overshadowed by skyscrapers.
“The people have nothing – no water, no light, kids eat from rubbish bins,” a 59-year-old former military officer who gave his name as Salomão told Reuters after voting in the neighbourhood of Nova Urbanização.
President Lourenco, who is seeking a second five-year term, urged voters after casting his ballot at Lusiada University in Luanda to go out and do the same.
“In the end, we will all win, democracy wins and Angola wins,” Lourenco told reporters.
Many voters were less confident in Angolan democracy.
An activist monitoring group, Mudei Movement, has taken pictures of results sheets at as many polling stations as possible, fearing the fraud that marred past polls.
UNITA urged voters to stay near polling stations after casting their ballots, a call many seemed to be heeding as polls closed in the evening.
“The police said to vote and go home. I told them I would vote and sit down,” said Severano Manuel, 28, in Cacuano, outside Luanda.
“School is awful. Health system is awful. They get richer, and we suffer,” he said, echoing the sentiments of other young voters around him.
The electoral commission earlier said there had been no disturbances that could jeopardise the process.
Tweaked vote-counting rules were expected to delay official results by days, analysts had said.
The announcement of the provisional results was not expected so soon.
“Voting is over, the vote count continues and we cannot have any predictions on the (announcement of) final results until this (process) is concluded,” CNE spokesman Lucas Quilunda said.
A report by the Institute for Security Studies said that if an MPLA win is perceived as fraudulent, unrest could follow.
If UNITA pulls off a win, its victory could weaken decades of close ties with Moscow, for whom the MPLA was a Cold War proxy during Angola’s 27-year civil war which ended in 2002. The United States backed UNITA.
UNITA condemned “the invasion of Ukraine by Russia”, Costa Junior said on Twitter.
He also travelled to Brussels and Washington to build ties with Western partners before elections.
Russian Ambassador Vladimir Tararov was quoted in Angolan media in March as praising Angola for its neutrality in abstaining from the United Nations resolution condemning the Ukraine war.
He lambasted UNITA for wanting to show it “stands with the West, the so-called civilised countries”.
“A UNITA win would mean a distancing of Angola from Russia,” Charles Ray, head of the Africa Programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Reuters, but only if it can consolidate power over a pro-Russian military first.
Lourenco has tried to improve relations with Washington, and just before the elections applied to join a trade agreement with the European Union and southern African states that has been in force since 2016.
Talks start in a few months.