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Angola Completes 10 Month-Long Voter Registration Drive

Angola has completed a 10-month voter registration drive in preparation for elections next year. The balloting will be Angola's first in 15 years and is aimed at consolidating a transition to multi-party democracy that was disrupted by decades of civil war. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

Angola's voter registration drive ended Sunday with a blitz by election officials who registered nearly two-million voters in the final two months of the campaign.

The official Angolan News Agency (ANGOP) says 7.5 million voters were registered during the drive that began last November and was extended in June by three months.

An official with the Plataforma Eleitoral (Electoral Platform) consortium of pro-democracy groups, Antonia Da Costa, says that even with the extension some potential voters were not registered. Nevertheless, she says these were a minority and in general the government fulfilled expectations in preparing the population for the elections.

Angola is to hold legislative elections next year and presidential elections in 2009. They will be the first multi-party elections in 15 years and only the second balloting in the country's history.

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

The MPLA and UNITA fought a bitter 27-year war that killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced one-fourth of the population. It also devastated education and social services and left more than one million landmines scattered across the country.

The legacy of the war has presented obstacles, including poor transportation and communications links, and a lack of political experience on the part of many citizens.

In addition, natural disasters such as seasonal rains that isolate parts of the country could also hinder balloting and vote tabulation.

Because of these obstacles some analysts doubt whether the elections can be held as scheduled. But Da Costa disagrees. She says that yes, the country is in a position to go ahead with the vote once the elections are formally announced. She adds that although there are difficulties there is a desire on the part of the people to move ahead.

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.

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

Nevertheless, the government has pledged a free and fair vote.