Can Angola’s opposition UNITA win the upcoming election?

By Daniel Ribant
Posted on Monday, 18 April 2022 11:16, updated on Thursday, 19 May 2022 22:31

Supporters of Angola's main opposition UNITA party cheer during an election rally in Luanda August 25, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Supporters of Angola's main opposition UNITA party cheer during an election rally in Luanda August 25, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

On 4 April, Angola celebrated the 20th anniversary of the end of its civil war. This 27-year long conflict will mark this country for a long time to come, not only due to the number of victims and displaced persons, but ultimately because of how much of society it destroyed.

The MPLA, which had been in power since independence, emerged as the war’s undisputed winner and strengthened its hold on the state, over which it still exerts a lot of influence today. UNITA, the opposing side, was reduced to silence and a rather formal opposition.

But things could change. After all, UNITA now has a new president : Adalberto da Costa Júnior (commonly known as ACJ), a mixed-race leader heading the party created by Jonas Savimbi.

ACJ is considered to be quite a symbol. He seems to be in tune with part of the population, especially the urban youth who did not live through the civil war and openly express their discontent with extreme poverty, unemployment and the lack of prospects.

The Angolan authorities understood early on the danger posed by ACJ. Elected in November 2019, the Constitutional Court invalidated his nomination in October 2021 because the candidate had presented himself without first renouncing his Portuguese nationality. Last March, a second congress was held, during which the result was finally confirmed.

The danger for the ruling power also stems from UNITA’s historic decision to join forces with another political party, the Bloco Democratico and the political platform PRA-JA Servir Angola to form the Frente Patriótica Unida. This is an important move because, by broadening its base, UNITA is making its intentions clear.

Convinced of his electoral success, ACJ called on his supporters to remain calm and tried to avoid the ‘banana skins’ that had been placed on his path (invalidated internal elections, appointing a man suspected of being an “MPLA activist” as head of the National Electoral Commission, accusations of stirring up street demonstrations, etc.).

Their President emulates a quiet strength both when operating inside and outside the party. ACJ easily adopts the “presidential” posture when he travels abroad, to the US and Israel in particular, where he pleads for transparent elections.

Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the opposition will win the August elections due to several reasons. Firstly, the MPLA, which is seen as a real election-winning-machine, is intrinsically strong. Furthermore, the party is the most disciplined in times of doubt. It is able to stand united in the face of threats, as the president seems to have found arguments that will convince the ungovernable.

READ MORE João Lourenço’s Angola

Then there is João Lourenço’s record. Despite two years of Covid-19, his five-year term has marked a break – albeit incomplete and partial – with the Dos Santos administration. Not only when it comes to fighting corruption, but also in the economic openness practised.

All investors are now welcome in Angola, where, according to almost everyone, it is easier to do business. The international organisations (World Bank, IMF, IFC) have returned to Luanda and all consider Lourenço’s record satisfactory. The good economic and financial management of José de Lima Massano – Vera Daves De Sousa, respectively governor of the Central Bank and minister of finance, has no doubt contributed to this satisfaction.

There can be little doubt that with this positive assessment, Lourenço will be the favourite of the international community, led by the West, which does not want to see a key South African country become destabilised, now that it has become a “friendly” state.

Naturally, it will be up to the Angolans, who had hoped that their lot would rapidly and significantly improve, to decide. This social aspect remains the weak point of Lourenço’s record. But could this change in such a short time? The current president will no doubt find the words to convince them to give him more time.

The final reason why it is unlikely that Angola’s opposition will emerge victorious is the country’s history. UNITA has never been in power at any level, whereas the MPLA has massively invested in the state and its machinery.

Without judging its leaders’ capabilities, this inexperience may prove to be a weakness. This gap can only be filled by a political opening that allows the opposition to run in certain municipalities or even be associated with the government. Only then can one speak of “reconciliation”, which is synonymous with 4 April, and its newfound peace.

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