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Angolans to Vote For First Time in 16 Years


Voters in Angola go to the polls Friday for the first time in 16 years. They are to cast their ballots for a new parliament in what is seen as preparations for presidential polls next year. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Luanda.

More than 8 million registered voters in Angola are to elect a new national assembly in an election Friday that authorities say will seal a six-year-old peace accord and put to rest the legacy of 27 years of civil war.

Angola's first multiparty elections in 1992 were won by the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola party - the MPLA. But they were rejected by the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola party, known as UNITA. This led to another 10 years of fighting that ended only after the death of UNITA founder Jonas Savimbi.

Angola Interior Minister Roberto Monteiro Ngongo told VOA that security forces would be impartial, but vigilant, in order to ensure an orderly polling.

He says he is pleased with the campaign and the behavior of the candidates. He says there were some incidents, but these were minor. And after years of war, he says the people clearly want progress, which can only happen with democracy.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos echoed the feeling in a speech to several hundred thousand supporters at the MPLA's final rally Wednesday in northern Luanda.

He says the campaign was carried out in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the opinions of others.

UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva urged his supporters at a rally a few kilometers away to turn out in large numbers but to cast their ballots with calm.

He says let us vote with tranquility and serenity because we want a united Angola and to consolidate our democracy.

Ten other parties are also contesting the elections mostly on a platform of change. The vote is seen as a precursor to presidential elections due next year.

The U.S. based National Democratic Institute coordinated training and funding for a network of Angolan pro-democracy groups that are deploying 2,500 election observers across the country.

NDI Director Isabel Emerson says Angolans are interested in the electoral process, but many are still afraid.

"The challenge is helping them overcome some of their fears, fears of being engaged in political activity," Emerson said. "This idea of a political discourse and debate, and different ideas, it is still very new and people find it hard to engage."

But she says a successful outcome to Friday's election will build confidence and mark an important step forward.

Political analysts say the vote will provide an indication of the degree of popularity of the MPLA, which has governed since independence.

They say the MPLA hopes to gain a two-thirds parliament majority that would allow it to amend the constitution without challenge.

But opposition parties, despite being weakened by splits and a lack of resources, are hoping to increase their presence in the legislature by campaigning on a need for change after more than three decades of MPLA rule.


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