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Angola President Wins Second Term in Closest Vote in Decades

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Angola’s ruling party maintained its 47-year grip on power and secured a second mandate for President Joao Lourenco in this week’s election, fending off a strong challenge from a rejuvenated opposition that’s refusing to concede defeat.

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The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, won 51.07% of the valid ballots cast in the Aug. 24 vote, National Electoral Commission spokesman Lucas Quilundo told reporters Thursday in the capital, Luanda. The main opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, got 44.05%.

Read: The Economic Challenges Awaiting Angola’s Next Leader

The results were based on ballots counted from 97% of polling stations and the final count shouldn’t result in any significant changes, Quilundo said. Unita on Friday refused to concede victory to the MPLA, alleging the process was marred by counting irregularities.

“We won with an outright majority and any party that wins with a majority can only be happy,” MPLA spokesman Rui Falcao said in a phone interview, as he urged Unita to concede. “In every game there are winners and losers. The winners must remain humble, while the losing side must accept defeat.”

The election was the most hotly contested in Africa’s second-biggest oil producer since a civil war ended in 2002, with Unita and its charismatic leader Adalberto Costa Junior tapping into widespread discontent over rampant poverty and unemployment to attract support. Despite the loss, it was Unita’s best election result since the end of the conflict. The rebel group-turned-opposition party also won the most votes in Luanda.

Brutal Discrepancies

Still, Unita leader Costa Junior refused to concede defeat. At a press conference in Luanda late on Friday, he said Unita found “brutal” discrepancies between the mandates it received from the national electoral commission and those it should have been assigned. He cited polling-station records from his party.

“Unita doesn’t recognize the provisional results announced by the electoral commission,” said Costa Junior, urging Angolans to remain calm. “The party-state must understand that sovereignty rests with the people.”

Unita had repeatedly claimed that the electoral process, which was monitored by about 1,300 domestic and foreign observers, was opaque. Costa Junior challenged the national election agency to accept the creation of a working group to scrutinize the polling station records.

The MPLA won 124 seats in the 220-seat National Assembly, retaining the majority it needs to pass most forms of legislation, and Unita 90 seats. The election marks the worst electoral result for the MPLA, which led the country since independence from Portugal in 1975. In the last vote in 2017, the MPLA won 61% backing and Unita just 27%.

During his first five-year term, Lourenco took steps to tackle the corruption that became endemic during his late predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s 38-year rule, and shored up the state’s finances by selling dozens of state-owned assets and reducing public debt. While the economy exited a five-year recession last year and the International Monetary Fund expects it to expand 3% in 2022, the rebound has yet to translate into better living standards.

Youth Unemployment

On the campaign trail, Lourenco pledged to increase local manufacturing, create jobs and reduce poverty in a country where the World Bank estimates about half of the population of 33 million live on less than $1.90 per day.

The unemployment rate among Angola’s youth stands at about 57%, National Statistics Institute estimates show. That partly explains Unita’s increasing popularity, especially among young voters, according to Manuel Alves da Rocha, an economics professor and director of the Catholic University of Angola’s research center in Luanda.

“People are tired of being told that improving living standards takes time,” Alves da Rocha said in a phone interview. “Angolans need solutions now.”

(Updates with Unita refusing to concede defeat from third paragraph)

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