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Angolan president wins second term after closest vote in decades

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Angola’s ruling party maintained its 47-year grip on power and secured a second mandate for President Joao Lourenco in the OPEC-member nation’s closest election in two decades.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, won 51.07% of the valid ballots cast in the August 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%.

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 has questioned the transparency of the vote and has yet to concede defeat.

“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 it lost. “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.

As the election proceeded peacefully, Angola’s bonds rallied and are set for their biggest weekly gains in a month. The yield on its 10-year debt has fallen 100 basis points since Monday to 11.02% on Thursday.

Opaque process

Unita has repeatedly claimed that the electoral process, which was monitored by about 1 300 domestic and foreign observers, was opaque. Unita spokeswoman Mihaela Weba said earlier on Thursday her party would only accept the results if they matched the polling-station records in its possession.

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. In the last vote in 2017, the MPLA won 61% backing and Unita just 27%.

Unita representatives weren’t immediately available on Friday to comment on the results.

“The MPLA lost votes and Unita clearly won in Luanda. This will force the MPLA to review its strategy and adapt public policies to the needs of citizens,” said Paulo Carvalho, a sociology professor at Agostinho Neto University in Luanda. “It will also have to act more inclusively in parliament. This change will be beneficial for Angola and for Angolans.”

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.”

© 2022 Bloomberg

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