Angola’s MPLA ruling party wins elections and presidency

The party of incumbent Joao Lourenco won 51.17% of the vote against 43.95% for the opposition UNITA, electoral commission says.

Angola’s MPLA party was declared the winner of a closely fought election, extending its decades-long rule and giving President Joao Lourenco a second term.

Official results announced by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) on Monday reported the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won 51.17 percent of the ballots against 43.95 percent for the main challenger, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

“The CNE proclaims Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco president of the republic,” commission head Manuel Pereira da Silva told a news  conference.

The vote was the tightest in Angola’s history. Results – the smallest margin of victory the party has ever had – in past elections have been contested, a process that can take several weeks.

Adalberto Costa Junior, leader of Angola’s main opposition party UNITA, after casting his vote in Luanda [Lee Bogota/Reuters]

UNITA, a former rebel movement that fought a bitter 27-year civil war against the MPLA government that ended in 2002, earlier rejected provisional results.

Adalberto Costa Junior, 60, leader of UNITA, last week called for an international panel to review the vote count. He cited discrepancies between the commission’s count and the main opposition coalition’s own tally. He did not immediately respond to the announcement of the final results.

Analysts fear any dispute could ignite mass street protests and possible violence among poor and frustrated youth who voted for Costa Junior.

The MPLA has traditionally wielded control over the electoral process as well as state media, and opposition and civic groups have in recent days raised fears of vote tampering.

The MPLA, a former liberation movement, has ruled Angola since independence from Portugal in 1975. But it has seen a steady decline in support in recent elections.

The announcement of Lourenco’s victory came a day after the funeral of Angola’s long-serving ex-ruler and MPLA stalwart Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Lourenco has also promised to reform one of the world’s most unequal economies, whose spurts of oil-fueled growth have done little but pile up riches inside the gated compounds and offshore bank accounts of top MPLA officials.

Who is Lourenco?

Born in Lobito, in Angola’s coastal Benguela province, Lourenco’s family was involved in the struggle for independence against Portuguese rule. His father, a nurse, was jailed in the capital Luanda for political activity between 1958 and 1960.

In his early 20s, Lourenco joined the Marxist MPLA movement in 1974 in exile in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was part of the first group to enter Angola during an anti-colonial rebellion that succeeded in late 1975.

He received military training between 1978 and 1982 in the former Soviet Union, where he got a master’s degree in history before returning home. He eventually gave up being a soldier and became a politician.

His victory means a likely continuation of Angola’s geopolitical tightrope of walking between Russia and the West.

Lourenco, 68, has tried to repair ties with Washington, and just before the elections applied to join an existing trade agreement with the European Union and southern African states.

But owing to MPLA’s historical strong Russian ties, Angola abstained from the UN resolution condemning the war in Ukraine.

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