Some 14 million Angolans at home and abroad will head to the polls on August 24 to cast their ballots in what is likely to be the tightest and most intense contest since the first multi-party elections in 1992.

In 2002, Angola emerged from a civil war that killed more than half a million people after a 27-year power struggle between former liberation movements, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which had ruled since Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Incumbent Joao Laurence of the MPLA is seeking a second five-year term, but the leader of the opposition UNITA party, Adalberto Costa Junior, is leading the fight.

In May, an Afrobarometer poll showed that the share of Angolans supporting UNITA had increased from 13 percent in 2019 to 22 percent, seven points behind the MPLA. According to the survey, almost half of the voters have not decided yet.

The current president, Llorensa, was handpicked by his predecessor, José Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down in 2017 after four decades in power, and was applauded for moving quickly to investigate allegations of corruption under the former president.

But analysts say many of Lawrence’s reforms have been designed for “external consumption” and have failed to improve people’s lives in one of Africa’s most unequal countries.

Angolans abroad will vote for the first time

Thousands of Angolans living abroad will vote for the first time in their country’s elections next week. Before the law was changed last year, Angolans had to travel home to exercise their right to vote. Many Angolan expats, who will be voting for the first time in this election, have their reservations about the fairness and integrity of the vote.

The MPLA voted against creating an overseas constituency to allow those living abroad to vote for legislators who represent their interests. Analysts say this deters many from voting.

Johannesburg-based analyst Marisa Lourenso says the decision to allow those living outside Angola to vote was simply a tactic.

“That’s what sets him apart from his predecessor, and that’s what he’s really focused on since he came into office,” says Laurence.

Only 22,000 of the approximately 400,000 Angolans abroad registered to vote. Adding to people’s frustration, all ballots cast abroad and in all of Angola’s provinces must be sent to the country’s capital, Luanda, and counted there, raising concerns about the possibility of voter fraud, analysts say.

Many problems remain only a week before the opening of polling stations

Although Angola’s electoral commission, the Comissão Nacional Eleitora (CNE), has given equal airtime to all political parties, much of the media is controlled by the state and the MPLA is getting more space as a result, analysts say.

Political anthropologist Jon Schubert said the MPLA controls the electoral process “from A to Z” and the August 24 election will be no different from previous ones.

UNITA has expressed concern that 2.5 million dead are registered to vote. In response, the Election Commission said it probably happened because family members did not report the death to the authorities or buried their loved ones in underground graves.

There are also concerns about the insufficient number of election observers. Some 2,000 national observers and 50 international organizations are expected to monitor 26,000 polling stations in a country twice the size of France.

Members of civil society urged people to stay at polling stations after voting to observe the process, but CNE chief Manuel Pereira da Silva warned that this would be illegal. Pereira da Silva assures that the electoral process will be impartial and transparent.

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