Accessibility links

Angola in Final Weeks of Voter Registration Drive

  • Scott Bobb

Angola is in the final weeks of a drive to register voters for parliamentary elections due next year. These are to be the first elections since the end of the lengthy Angolan civil war. But there are obstacles that some experts believe will make it difficult to hold the polling as scheduled. Southern Africa correspondent Scott Bobb has this report from Luanda.

Since last November more than 2,000 officials have been deployed across Angola to register as many voters as possible before the start of the rainy season in September.

To date 5.7 million voters have been registered for parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections in 2009. This is considered to be a significant portion of the adult population but the exact figure is unknown because the last census was conducted in the 1970s.

These will be the first elections in 15 years and only the second multi-party vote in the country's history.

The National Democratic Institute is training observers and supporting voter education programs. Program director Barbara Smith says the preparations appear to be going well.

"The registration process has been quite lengthy but they've managed to register so far quite a good percentage of the amount of people they think need registering," she said.

But the Angolan government believes the number is low. It has extended the registration drive by three months and has begun sending officials by helicopter into remote regions of the territory.

A professor at the University of Angola, Immanuel Muanza, notes that many other obstacles remain.

He says 2008 is not likely to be the year for the elections. This is because of the rains, the size of the territory, the lack of paved roads and legacies of the war such as landmines.

Muanza adds that once voter registration is finished, voter lists must be compiled and published for public review. Materials such as ballots and ballot boxes must be distributed. And election officials must be trained.

He believes these tasks are too great to be accomplished by next year's dry season, when the elections could be held without the added logistical problems posed by the rains.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has governed since independence and will be competing against the Union for the Total Independence of Angola-UNITA-and a dozen smaller parties.

The MPLA and UNITA fought a bitter 27-year war that displaced one-fourth of the population, devastated education and social services and left more than one million landmines scattered across the country.

Smith of the NDI says this legacy is already causing problems.

"They mistrust each other in a unique way really. It's difficult for the parties who aren't in power to voice where their real concerns are with the process. And I think it's hard for MPLA to open up and be completely transparent about the process with them," she said.

Independent observers also question whether the elections will be fair. They note that they are being held under the Ministry of Territorial Administration and the National Electoral Commission has merely a supervisory role.

Nevertheless the government has pledged a free and fair vote.

Angola has held multi-party elections only once, in 1992. These were meant to end the civil war but UNITA rejected the results and fighting resumed.

After the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in an ambush in 2002, the two sides signed a peace agreement and formed a government of national reconciliation.

Mwanza says there are fears among some Angolans that another election will lead to a new round of fighting.

He says people living in the interior still recall how they voted and then were persecuted or lost their families. So, he says, they view the elections as possibly bringing another crisis.

But Angola University Sociology Professor Paulo de Carvalho, who has conducted public opinion surveys on voter attitudes, says today the fear of a return to war is not very great.

He says if Joanes Savimbi were alive the fear would be greater. He acknowledges there are ethnic tensions that could bring war but says firm measures are being taken to prevent this from happening.

The elections were to have been held in 2004 but have been repeatedly postponed.

Smith says the delay is causing suspicion among some Angolans.

"The sooner that they can put that calendar in place, the more confidence there will be in it," she said. "The process has been delayed several times now and people get edgy that it will be delayed yet another year."

Smith says many Angolans do not understand how their parliament works and a great deal of civic education remains to be done, but people display remarkable political wisdom.

"They understand that it's their chance to show their displeasure or their pleasure with what government is doing. It's their chance every four years to vote for change if they don't like what the government has done for them," she said.

Despite the difficulties, observers hope Angolans will gain valuable experience through the elections. And this will strengthen democratic traditions and be a major step toward overcoming the legacy of the war.

XS
SM
MD
LG