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Breaking|Angolans to vote abroad for the first time

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Angolan chef Paulo Soares prepares to serve a table at Casa de Angola restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal. Angolans abroad will be voting remotely for the first time in their country’s election next week. File
Angolan chef Paulo Soares prepares to serve a table at Casa de Angola restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal. Angolans abroad will be voting remotely for the first time in their country’s election next week.

Dania Silva is excited to be one of the thousands of Angolans abroad to be voting remotely for the first time in their country’s election next week, but wonders is her vote will change anything.

“I have faith but … I believe there will be no political change because there is a lot of vote manipulation,” said Silva, 22, at lunch in an Angolan restaurant in Portugal’s capital Lisbon, to where she moved a month ago.

If the past is anything to go by, Silva’s fears are well founded. Opposition parties, academics and civil society groups such as Movimento Mudei criticised previous elections as one-sided and not credible.

About 14-million Angolans at home and abroad will vote on August 24 in probably the tightest, tensest race since the first multiparty election in 1992.

“Nothing has changed in terms of the transparency of the election since 2017, so if the (ruling) MPLA sees that it’s not doing well it has the ability to falsify the results,” said Justin Pearce, senior lecturer in history at SA’s Stellenbosch University.

The MPLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It does not help that the government passed a law in 2021 to centralise the final vote counting from all stations at home and abroad in the capital Luanda, a system that has raised fears about voter fraud.The government controls most local media.

Civil society groups want votes to be counted where they are cast and not in Luanda.

There will be 2,000 Angolan and at least 50 international observers keeping an eye on the polls, but in a country twice the size of France they will be stretched.

Manuel Pereira da Silva, head of the electoral commission, which says it is independent, told reporters this month that the electoral process will be impartial and transparent.

Angola, second-biggest oil producer in Africa and one of its most unequal countries, emerged from civil war in 2002, after a 27-year struggle between former liberation movements, the MPLA, which has ruled since Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975, and Unita. More than 500,000 people were killed.

President João Lourenço of the MPLA is seeking a second five-year term but main opposition party Unita looks increasingly popular.

An Afrobarometer survey in May showed the proportion of Angolans favouring Unita, led by Adalberto Costa Júnior, rose from 13% in 2019 to 22%, seven points behind the MPLA. The survey found that nearly half the voters were still undecided.

Former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who quit in 2017 after four decades in power, handpicked Lourenço, who has been applauded for investigating corruption in the Dos Santos era. But frustration persists at the MPLA failures to improve the lives of most Angolans.

Unita is betting on younger voters and says it wants to create jobs and give them stability at a time of global crisis.

If Unita wins, “it would be the first time since I was born that I saw another party in power”, said Silva.

Expatriates had to go home to vote until electoral law changed in 2021.

“I’m 51 and I’m finally going to vote,” said an emotional restaurant chef, Paulo Soares.

“It sounds to me that this was a strategy as MPLA’s share of the vote falls in Angola to try and mobilise potential supporters outside the country,” said Pearce.

Yet only 22,000 of the 400,000 or so Angolans abroad registered to vote, a possible sign of how little faith they have in the process. Some complained they could not register as they lived too far from consulates or were not given enough time to organise paperwork.

“There are a lot of people who don’t believe in the election,” said 30-year-old Filipe Gonga, who lives in the Netherlands. “I don’t believe it either, but I’m going to exercise my right.”

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