Angola After the Election - No Rest for the Opposition Nor the President

16 September 2022

Many Angolans have doubts about last month's election result. But there is little they could do to protest, as Joao Lourenco was sworn in as president. Even action taken on the international stage may change nothing.

Until a few days ago, you could hear a pin drop as members of the special police unit "Policia de Intervencao Rapida" were seen practically everywhere in the Angolan capital, Luanda.

There and in the country's bigger cities, they drove around on their pickup trucks alongside thousands of police officers in heavy gear, who often were accompanied by police dogs. Then there was also the Angolan army patroling the streets in military trucks, especially on the outskirts of Luanda.

The Angolan government said that this was in response to "security" concerns on the occasion of the inauguration ceremony of President Joao Lourenco on September 15.

Nothing could be left to chance for the event: In a note from the Angolan army leadership obtained by DW, the chief of staff of the air force even announced "the temporary closure of Angolan airspace" for the occasion of the president's inauguration.

'Mad world'

Not everyone seemed impressed with this level of meticulous planning ahead of the event.

"Against whom is the regime defending itself? Against the unarmed people?" asked Ginga Savimbi, a member of Angola's largest opposition party, UNITA.

The outspoken activist is also the daughter of party founder Jonas Savimbi, and said that the sight of a such a display of military and police power on the streets of Angola is "not the country we dream to have."

"The one who supposedly won the elections sends the entire army into the streets to repress the unarmed people," Savimbi said, reflecting the views of the entire UNITA part, which seems to consider the security measures excessive.

Prior to the inauguration, opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior appealed to the population to remain calm, urging the police and army not to intervene against any defenseless member of civil society.

"The one who allegedly lost the elections is asking for calm and serenity," Savimbi observed, adding that this has all become a "mad world."

No change at the top levels of government

The ruling MPLA party, which has held power since the country's independence in 1975, has once again emerged as the strongest party in the recent elections, according to official figures.

As leader of the strongest faction in the Angolan parliament, President Lourenco is thus considered automatically reelected as head of state.

Joao Lourenco looks good on paper: He has promised to comply with the constitution and said that he will dedicate all his efforts to finding solutions to major social problems.

He promised to create more jobs for the youth, pledged to build new roads throughout the country, and with Esperanca Costa becoming vice-president, it is expected that the issue of gender equality and women's rights will be one of the priorities of the government.

His MPLA is said to have won 124 parliamentary seats -- or about 51% of the vote. According to official results, the largest opposition party, UNITA, achieved respectable success with around 44% of the vote and 90 parliamentary seats, but fell short of its goal of becoming the strongest power in parliament.

The alleged tight race, however, was also the MPLA's worst showing at the polls in 30 years.

However, this is a result which nearly all opposition parties consider to be fake: Especially among young people living in the cities, there was great support for Adalberto Costa Junior during the election campaign. The desire for political change was palpable in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Opposition demands recount

According to Alexia Gamito, coordinator of the politically independent platform "Mudei" ("Change") -- a civil society group that conducted a parallel count of the election votes independently -- there should be a completely different result in favour of UNITA.

These findings led to appeals being filed with the National Electoral Commission, CNE. When that didn't help, two opposition parties -- UNITA and CASA-CE -- filed a complaint before Angola's Supreme Constitutional Court to compare the electoral commission's results with the opposition's results.

To no avail: The Constitutional Court deemed the complaint unfounded, and rejected their request for a recount.

Stuck in the past

That verdict, however, was to be expected, given the power structures that have been in place in Angola for decades, said political analyst Carlos Rosado de Carvalho.

"Here in Angola, constitutional challenges never led to any result. At the end of the day, the opinion of the MPLA party always prevails," De Carvalho told DW, adding that not only the electoral commission is controlled by the MPLA but also the judges of the Constitutional Court.

"The presiding judge of the Constitutional Court was directly appointed to her post by the MPLA Politburo. The vice president of the Constitutional Court is a former justice minister in the MPLA government," De Carvalho said.

"The government appoints four constitutional judges, and the parliament appoints another four judges, but so far only three have been appointed by the MPLA and only one by UNITA. So the MPLA controls at least 7 out of a total of 11 constitutional judges."

The only option left, said Carvalho, is to appeal to international tribunals -- though he said he sees little chance of success here: "Even in the last elections ... UNITA came along and announced that it would appeal to international authorities. But that didn't produce tangible results either."

International tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, "are only responsible for serious human rights violations and atrocities -- for example during the course of wars and civil wars," added lawyer Serrote Simao Hebo.

Election fraud or other irregularities in elections do not fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court at all, Hebo told DW.

A reliable partner of the West

Various foreign heads of state have already congratulated Joao Lourenco and his MPLA party on their election victory, including the United States, China, Russia, several EU states, and above all the former colonial power, Portugal.

There are several reasons for Lourenco's growing political support from the international community: Under his leadership, Angola has made significant progress in the fight against international terrorism and money laundering. Moreover, as Africa's largest crude oil producer, Angola is considered an important partner in the region.

Regardless, UNITA has appealed to the "national and international public," asking it to recognize that the official election results "do not correspond to the wishes of the majority of voters."

This article was translated from German

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