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Angolans go to the polls in the closest race ever

#Angolans #polls #closest #race

Angolans go to the polls on Wednesday in what is expected to be the most competitive vote in their democratic history, with incumbent President Joao Lourenco going up against charismatic opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior.

A struggling economy, the high cost of living, rising poverty exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, drought in the southern parts of the country and the death of a strong former president all come to the fore.

The ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has been in power for more than 40 years, is facing its biggest challenge since the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992.

Eight political parties are competing, but the real competition is between the MPLA and its long-time rival and ex-rebel movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Opinion polls suggest support for the MPLA, which won 61 percent of the vote in the 2017 election, will wane, while UNITA, which has entered into an electoral pact with two other parties, will rise.

But UNITA’s advance may not be enough to unseat Lourenco, who is expected to secure a second mandate.

Still, it’s unlikely to be a smooth transition to the post for the 68-year-old, who succeeded veteran leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos five years ago.

“Margins will be tighter than ever … but the tenure benefits mean MPLA still has a chance of beating Costa (Junior),” said Eric Humphery-Smith, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft in London.

– ‘An alternative’ –

The MPLA remains in control of the electoral process and public media in Angola, but the opposition is urging its supporters not to be intimidated.

“Don’t be afraid of an alternative,” said Costa Junior on Monday at his final rally in the capital Luanda. “There is no democracy with a single party in power.”

Popular with the youth – a significant and growing block of voters – the 60-year-old Costa Junior promises to “eradicate poverty” and create jobs.

His rival, a Soviet-educated former general who promised to herald a new era for Angola when first elected, has touted a list of achievements to woo voters.

“We have made and restructured our economy,” he said at the weekend at one of his final rallies in the capital.

But for most of Angola’s 33 million people, for whom life in Africa’s second largest oil producer is everyday life, little has changed.

“We’ve been voting for years and it’s not working,” said 37-year-old street vendor Gabriel.

“Everything is very expensive, prices are rising and we earn crumbs.”

The petrodollars benefited former president, the late dos Santos, who died in Spain last month, his family and cronies.

The nightly and unobtrusive repatriation of dos Santos’ remains to Angola in the final leg of the election campaign added a macabre element to the elections.

Analysts warn that attempts by the ruling party to capitalize on dos Santos’ funeral could backfire as opinions on his legacy are not “unanimous”, particularly among young people.

Around 14.7 million people are registered to vote at 13,200 polling stations across the vast South African nation.

Angolans living abroad can vote from abroad for the first time.

Polling stations open at 7:00 a.m. (0600 GMT) and close 11 hours later.

Results are expected within a few days. In past elections, results have been contested in a process that can last several weeks.

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