LUANDA — Angola on Saturday tallied ballots from its second peacetime elections, expected to keep President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in power despite demands from the poor for a fairer slice of the nation’s oil wealth.
Counting began shortly after polls closed Friday, but the process will take several days as results are compiled from across a nation twice the size of France, where some returns have to be physically transported from remote regions.
The National Electoral Commission said initial results would be announced later Saturday.
Tightly controlled state media hailed the elections, with television repeating images of people around the country casting ballots at more than 10,000 schools that closed for a month to allow their transformation into polling stations.
“Voting proceeded in an orderly manner across the national territory,” proclaimed the government mouthpiece Jornal de Angola.
The ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), in power since independence from Portugal in 1975, took 81 percent of the vote in the last elections in 2008.
The MPLA is widely expected to take a majority of the 220 seats in parliament. The leader of the winning party will become president, making Dos Santos all but certain to win a five-year term.
He has already ruled Angola for 33 years, through a devastating civil war that ended in 2002 and then through an oil boom that over the last decade has transformed the country into one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
While his family has built a business empire, he has also ploughed billions of dollars into rebuilding the nation with new roads, schools, bridges and dams rising up from the ruins.
Public health and incomes have improved, but 55 percent of the country still lives in abject poverty, often in shacks without electricity or running water.
Resentment among young Angolans, who enviously eye the luxurious new skyscrapers filling Luanda’s skyline, has sparked a series of protests since March last year demanding that Dos Santos step down and calling for the nation’s oil wealth to be spread more evenly.
The protests were quickly repressed, but clearly rattled a government that had never allowed any public show of dissent.
Dos Santos has used his dominance of state media to show off his reconstruction drive, campaigning on a pledge for Angola “to grow more and share better”.
The main opposition Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) accuses Dos Santos of using his power and money to consolidate power in his hands, and has campaigned promising a better democracy.
Unita leader Isaias Samakuva has lambasted the organisation of the polls, citing worries about accreditation of observers and the failure to make a public audit of the 9.7 million names on the voter roll.
The head of the Constitutional Court told the Jornal de Angola that the judges were ready to hear any legal challenges.
“I hope that it won’t come to that, but if it happens the Constitutional Court is ready to assume its responsibilities,” chief judge Rui Ferreira said.
With only 10 percent of votes in the last poll, Unita needs a strong showing to prove it remains relevant, particularly after a bruising split that saw a top party official form the new Casa party with a high-profile defector from the MPLA.
Casa has made in-roads among young voters with promises of better jobs and homes, but it is unclear of the party’s reach since its creation in April.
Former Cape Verde president Pedro Verona Pires, chief of the African Union’s observer team, described the poll’s organisation as “satisfactory” and said that initial reports showed the voting had proceeded well.
The few foreign observers at the polls were returning from the farflung provinces Saturday, and expected to begin announcing their findings from Sunday.AFP