The former Angolan rebel group that resorted to violence the last time it lost at the polls has accepted defeat in parliamentary elections.
Isaias Samakuva, leader of the rebel group turned opposition party known as UNITA, called a late night news conference on Monday to announce he was accepting the results from voting on Friday and Saturday that was peaceful but disorganized. With about 80 per cent of the ballots counted, Angola's longtime ruling party had more than 80 per cent of the vote, according to official results. "At a point where about 80 per cent of the votes have been counted, despite all that has happened, UNITA's leadership accepts the election results," Samakuva said calmly. He called on "the winning party to govern in the interest of all Angolans." President Eduardo dos Santos's party has dominated politics since independence from Portugal in 1975. Speculation before the vote had focused less on whether the party would win than on whether it would capture the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution. Dos Santos's Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, known as the MPLA for the initials of its name in Portuguese, went into the election with 125 of parliament's 220 seats. UNITA, formally the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, had had 70. The last time Angola held elections was in 1992 during a break in decades of a civil war that had started in 1975.
After a lull for the 1992 vote, fighting broke out anew after UNITA refused to accept results showing it had lost. The war ended in 2002, when the army killed UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. Over the weekend, UNITA called for voting to be held again in Luanda, the capital, because of the organizational problems. Election officials rejected that demand on Monday, saying UNITA had not proven that the voting was so flawed it needed to be redone. Election officials had extended voting through the night on Friday and all of Saturday in Luanda after delays caused by lack of ballot papers, absence of polling attendants and other problems. At a news conference in Luanda on Monday, chief European Union observer Luisa Morgantini criticized the elections as poorly organized, but praised voters' calmness and enthusiasm. Morgantini was asked repeatedly whether she judged the elections free, fair and open. She said she found that formula "too vague." Observers from the Pan-African Parliament, affiliated with the African Union, gave the elections a lukewarm endorsement. In a weekend statement, the group expressed concern the ruling party had misused the media during the campaign and called voter education insufficient.
In a statement in Brussels, Belgium, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that for all its problems, the vote in a country that has known only six years of peace after decades of civil war was significant.
"These elections are a step towards the consolidation of a multiparty democracy, a fundamental element for peace, stability, and socio-economic development," he said.
Presidential elections expected next year will be critical, as most power in Angola rests with the executive. Dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979, is expected to run again. Dos Santos' once-Marxist MPLA is accused by international human rights groups of corruption and mismanagement. It campaigned on promises to keep transforming a nation destroyed by civil war. Oil output is projected to surpass 2 million barrels a day next year and increase by 90 per cent from 2005 levels by 2010, according to conservative estimates by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF says that would double government revenues, even if oil prices fall.