Angola’s ruling party regains power but faces legitimacy questions

Supporters of Joao Lourenco and the ruling MPLA during an election campaign rally in Luanda. EPA/Manuel de Almeida

The swearing in of the new Angolan parliament marks the first time in 38 years that Angola has a new president. João Lourenço, who Angolans refer to as “JLo”, replaces the long-serving José Eduardo dos Santos, who carries on as president of the ruling MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola).

Analysts have argued that Dos Santos will continue to hold considerable power behind the scenes. His recent promotion of 165 senior police officers to key security positions just prior to his exit is a strong sign that he intends to influence control despite Lourenço’s entry.

However, the equally important story of the 2017 election is the ruling MPLA’s loss of popular support. If opposition claims of egregious procedural irregularities in tallying procedures are true, the ruling party could be facing a pending legitimacy crisis.

Official results showed the MPLA losing support across the country. Even if the election results are accurate, the significant fall in support speaks of a population disillusioned with the last decade of MPLA rule.

If opposition claims are to be taken seriously, the MPLA’s losses could be even more severe than they appear. This will lead to serious legitimacy problems in the future, especially in urban centres where discontent with the current system has become progressively vocal. The MPLA faces a citizenry that is increasingly hostile to it. How this standoff will be negotiated will be decisive for the post-Dos Santos era.

A tallying fiasco

Voting closed at 6pm on August 23. Following this, in theory, the votes at each polling station would have been counted in the presence of observers. The results would then have been entered on sheets to be signed off by all the party representatives and other relevant individuals.

Copies were given to each party representative at the voting station, and one posted publicly so that people could know the results for their neighbourhood. Results from each station were then meant to be sent to the relevant provincial tallying centre, which in turn would transmit the results from the provinces via fax or electronically to the national tallying centre in the capital, Luanda.

On August 24, the head of the National Electoral Commission, Júlia Ferreira, appeared on national television announcing provisional results that showed the MPLA winning by a clear majority. But, just a few hours later, seven members of the commission held a press conference questioning the veracity of Ferreira’s numbers. They explained that they had not witnessed any tallying of votes, nor had they signed off on any document regarding provisional results. The source of her numbers was therefore a mystery.

Information began to trickle in that no results had yet been processed at some provincial tallying centres, and no results had been sent to the national tallying centre. The opposition’s parallel vote was arriving at notably different results to the CNE. The implication was that the provisional results were invented.

Angolan flag.

Despite these serious concerns, the international press embarrassingly continued to announce that the MPLA had won a landslide victory. Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo dos Santos even formally congratulated the MPLA before the tallying was completed. These actions ignored the fact that the “landslide” was potentially a total fabrication.

By September 1, agreement had only been reached on the results of four provinces. Cabinda, Uige, Zaire and Malanje. The opposition lodged complaints about irregularities in vote tabulation with the CNE, but their concerns were dismissed.

Looking Forward

On September 6, the CNE announced the still disputed official results which saw the MPLA win with 61.08%, followed by Unita (26.68%) and CASA-CE (9.45%). Unita and two smaller parties, the FNLA and PRS, have lodged complaints with the Constitutional Court, but a decision is still pending.

Despite the ongoing question mark over the veracity of results, the international community has been quick to congratulate the MPLA.

With Kenya already having been a moment of significant embarrassment for those countries quick to recognise locally disputed results, those rushing to congratulate the MPLA may equally find themselves with egg in their faces one day.

The MPLA’s influence over state institutions and the judiciary mean that any formal recognition of opposition concerns, such as took place in Kenya, is unlikely. The party can push through the official results, but it does this at the expense of a credible win. Unita has announced that, as a protest, it might refuse to take up its seats in parliament. Most opposition supporters believe they have been swindled, and some are even calling for protests on September 15.

In Luanda, where at least a quarter of the population lives, even the contested official results show the MPLA only winning 48.21%, meaning that the majority voted against them. Not only does Lourenço, given Dos Santos’s ongoing influence, face a difficult balancing act at the top, but he is now located in a capital city that does not want him or his party in power.