Provisional results from Angola’s election indicate the ruling party that has been in power for nearly five decades holds a strong lead over the main opposition.
With 33 percent of the votes counted on Thursday, the National Electoral Commission (CNE) said the first provisional results showed the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) garnered 60.65 percent of the vote.
The MPLA has been led since 2017 by President Joao Lourenco.
CNE said the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which is led by Adalberto Costa Junior, received 33.85 percent, however, UNITA said the initial count was not reliable.
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, dismissed the provisional results and said 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 percent, from 13 percent in 2019.
That was still seven points behind the MPLA, but nearly half of voters were undecided. Many young people — under 25s make up 60 percent of the southern African country — were voting for the first time.
Angola is Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, but as with many developing 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.
“The people have nothing — no water, no light, kids eat from rubbish bins,” a 59-year-old former military officer told the Reuters news agency after voting in the neighbourhood of Nova Urbanizacao.
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 spokesperson 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 the 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.