Details can make a difference when it comes to writing a constitution. That’s the opinion of legal expert André Thomashausen when asked about Angola. Thomashausen is the director of the University of South Africa’s Institute of Foreign and Comparative Law.
He focuses on what he considers to be the most important detail of Angola’s constitution: the president is no longer chosen by direct vote. Instead, the presidency goes to the leading candidate of the party than won the country’s general elections.
"That's something original," he said. "There isn’t any other constitution in the world that does it.”
South Africa has a similar approach, though it provides a role for the National Assembly in the naming of the president.
For example in 2009, the African National Congress, the ANC, won the elections, and the National Assembly chose the party’s leader, Jacob Zuma, to head the government.
“In constitutional law," Thomashausen explained, "the question always lies in the technicalities. Although this appears to be a ritual, it underlines the assembly’s supremacy and of its deputies, that are elected by the people. […] And here in South Africa, the same assembly that chooses the president can also ask for his resignation with a simple majority. […] And that doesn’t happen in Angola. Angola can only remove his president after a very complicated procedure.”
Thomashausen said technically, Angola has one of the “most modern and perfect” constitutions. Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos calls the document “genuinely national” and “original”.
The document includes 244 articles including chapters about the parameters of citizens’ fundamental rights as well as their social and economic rights.
Professor of Law at the University of Lisbon in Portugal Jorge Miranda says it also gives more power to the President of Angola:
“There is a contradiction in the constitution regarding the fundamental rights and the guarantee of constitutionality, and presidential rights," he said. "The way rights are limited is an important guarantee of fundamental rights. And if there isn’t a limitation of the executive’s power, fundamental liberties may be at risk.”
According to the Angolan constitution, the president simultaneously holds executive power as the head of State, and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He can make key government appointments including judges to the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court and pardon or commute sentences. He is the only one who can ratify international treaties.
Thomashausen said the public should have more influence on the selection of the president and his power.
“There is a difficulty in Angola’s new system," he said. "The characteristics of a presidential system are all embodied in the figure of the president, but he is not directly elected by the voters, who could have a choice.”
Thomashausen said it’s important for Angolans to have the ability to choose a president from one party, and a National Assembly from another.
Constitutional experts say it’s an important part of the foundation of many democracies: a clear separation of power between the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. Together, they act as a system of “checks and balances” that monitor each other’s’ actions, helping to keep a democracy from becoming a dictatorship.