Which party will emerge the strongest and consequently win the presidency in Wednesday’s election? Observers predict a close race between incumbent Joao Lourenco and opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior.
Every day, 23-year-old Joaquim comes to the “Baixa” — the lower region of Angola’s capital, Luanda — to look for odd jobs, such as a messenger or load carrier in one of the many stores or warehouses in the area.
“We want a political change: a new government,” Joaquim told DW. “Above all, this new government should focus on jobs and education for young people.” He is determined to vote for the opposition in Wednesday’s elections.
Sofia, an 18-year-old student, agrees with Joaquim. “We hardly get a chance on the job market, and things are also miserable in schools. There should be a lot more training opportunities,” Sofia said, adding that what the young people want is finally a new party at the top.
For Valdemar, 29, many young people have lost trust in the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has been in power for many years. He blamed the MPLA for breaking many of its campaign promises.
Youth want change
“Angola is a young country and Angola’s youth want change,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, told DW.
He noted that in Angola’s five biggest cities, where the vast majority of Angolans live, the candidate of the largest opposition party, The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), is very popular.
About 14.3 million eligible voters have a choice between eight different political parties. At stake is the distribution of the 220 seats in the Angolan parliament and the question of which party can garner the most votes.
According to Angola’s constitution, the leader of the faction with the most parliamentary seats will automatically be elected president of the republic.
Three main election issues: Jobs, poverty, corruption
The campaign strategists of the eight competing parties have sought to court the youth vote, mainly focusing on topics such as unemployment, education, and vocational training.
There was also a lot of talk about poverty and the best concepts for combating it.
Corruption also featured prominently during the campaigns. For example, the opposition accuses the MPLA of using state funds for its election campaign.
President Lourenco had made the fight against corruption a central issue in his first election campaign in 2017.
At the time, he promised to introduce new compliance rules for state-owned companies, especially for the all-important oil industry. In addition, powerful ex-generals were targeted by the Angolan judiciary for corruption, and not even the relatives of his predecessor, the late President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, were spared.
During the election campaign, the main rivals accused each other of “cultivating relations with corrupt people.” The ruling MPLA implicitly accused UNITA of having its election campaign financed by the children of Eduardo dos Santos but provided no evidence for this allegation.
On the other hand, UNITA calls Lourenco’s anti-corruption measures “cosmetic” to achieve publicity, while the fight against graft continues to be neglected.
The two favorites
Of the eight candidates, only two — Joao Lourenco and Adalberto Costa Junior — have a chance of moving into the presidential palace in Luanda.
Incumbent Lourenco, 68, became involved with his party as a youth and worked his way up. He was in the MPLA’s politburo for many years, became governor of several inland provinces, and later defense minister.
In 2017, Jose Eduardo dos Santos chose him as his successor.
During the 2022 election campaign, he strictly refused to participate in debates, even with his rival from the UNITA party.
Adalberto Costa Junior is the son of a former UNITA fighter and he himself has been a member of the movement since he was a teenager. After Angola’s independence in 1975, Junior studied electrical engineering in Portugal.
Upon returning to Angola, he became involved in the party, became the party’s spokesman, and eventually took over as UNITA president.
“I still attribute the best chances of winning the election to the incumbent,” Alex Vines said.
“Lourenco has the combined strength of the MPLA party behind him, which has ruled the country uninterruptedly since independence from Portugal in 1975.”
“These state resources — be it money or manpower, in the form of state employees — have been used for decades by the MPLA for its own purposes, including during the election campaign,” Mozambican lawyer Borges Nhamirre said.
Risk of election-related violence
According to Nhamirre, who just published his research with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) about the potential for violence, mass rigging could be a trigger.
“The first and most likely scenario is that the MPLA wins the elections by manipulating the electoral and judicial institutions. This could spark a popular uprising that could lead to post-election violence,” Nhamirre said, adding in his research that the second, less likely scenario is a UNITA victory that could lead to some conservative groups within the MPLA refusing to transfer power.
He said there needs to be a transparent election process to prevent violence.
“Let people participate in the counting. Let people observe the elections! Don’t just serve them a result they don’t know how it came about, like a bad meal prepared in secret,” Nhamirre said.