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Angola prepares for tight elections

Eight political parties are in the running, with an expected duel between the two main parties: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the party in power since independence in 1975 and the largest opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).

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Angola prepares for tight elections

Eight political parties are in the running, with an expected duel between the two main parties: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the party in power since independence in 1975 and the largest opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).

The stakes are high for the MPLA, led by President Joao Lourenço, elected in 2017 and running for a second term. The President of the party or coalition dominating the Assembly automatically becomes President of the Republic.

But many Angolans are turning away from the ruling party in a country in great economic difficulty. Angola, which has 33 million inhabitants, is rich in oil but a large part of its population lives below the poverty line.

"There are a lot of expectations in society," said Claudio Silva, a political commentator in Luanda. "People are very excited because there is a prospect of change," he added.

For many, change may come from Unita leader Adalberto Costa Junior, nicknamed 'ACJ', who has invigorated the opposition since taking over as party leader in 2019.

For a little less than a year, this 60-year-old man, reputed to be a good orator, has succeeded in rallying several opposition parties. He rallied young urban voters around promises of reform and the fight against poverty and corruption.

- Promises of reform -

Young people between the ages of 10 and 24 constitute 33% of the population, according to United Nations data.

Voters born after the civil war (1975-2001) are less attached to the MPLA than their elders, according to observers and recent polls.

According to Augusto Santana, an electoral expert, "they are looking for education, jobs and better living conditions".

For its part, the MPLA should try to take advantage of the repatriation to Angola on Saturday of the body of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who died in Spain last month, recalling his role in the pacification of the country after its independence from Portugal, believes independent political analyst Marisa Lourenço.

He led a long and difficult civil war, which killed some 500,000 people in 27 years, with the support of the USSR and Cuba, against Unita supported by the South African apartheid regime and the United States. .

However, given the controversial legacy of Mr. dos Santos, whose family has been implicated in corruption cases, the use of this argument should "not have a major impact on the election", according to her.

If the MPLA remains the favourite, analysts and polls point to a tight result.

But the opposition and part of public opinion are wondering about the possibility of fraud during the ballot.

Social networks have relayed many cases of deceased people registered on electoral lists, according to Mr. Silva.

- Anger -

On Thursday, President Lourenço dismissed opposition criticism of the electoral commission, which has a majority of MPLA members.

"If they say that the electoral process and the National Electoral Commission are discredited, why do they want to participate?" said the president during a meeting in Benguela, 500 km south of the capital.

Accusations of irregularities also marked the 2017 ballot, without them being taken into account, according to Justin Pearce, a specialist in Angolan history at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

"It created a lot of anger in civil society," Pearce said.

Foreign observers have arrived in the country in recent weeks.

Dolphin of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Mr. Lourenço, his ex-Minister of Defense, had won 61% of the votes in 2017. He had surprised by launching a vast operation "clean hands" against his mentor and his family, accused of having embezzled billions, removing his close guard from the leadership of the party and institutions.

Inheriting an oil-dependent economy, deeply in recession, he launched ambitious reforms, hailed abroad, to diversify sources of income and privatize public enterprises. But little has changed for the majority of Angolans, who are struggling to feed themselves in a context of rampant inflation and severe drought.

"The MPLA must do much better, they must eradicate poverty, (...) create jobs, (...) provide better services. If they don't do this, they will have a revolution on their hands," assures Paula Cristina Roque, independent political analyst.

Whoever wins the election, "the next five years are going to be painful", according to Ms Roque.

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