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Massive Voter Turnout in Angola Legislative Elections

Voters in Angola went to the polls Friday to elect a new parliament, in the country's first elections in 16 years. Turnout was massive, but numerous irregularities and technical problems were reported. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Luanda.

Angolans turned out to vote early Friday forming long lines before dawn outside the country's 14,000 voting stations.

Maria Adao Pedro de Souza, an elderly mother of eight, says she woke up at five o'clock to be the first to cast her ballot at her polling center on a dusty street in the Kiambo Kiaxi district of northern Luanda.

She says the voting went well. It was well organized and went better than the first time in 1992.

Law student Izau Lourenco says he came early to exercise his civil right.

He says the new government needs to give priority to education and health because there are not enough schools and hospitals in the country. And he says it must show progress in these areas quickly because there will be new elections in four years.

However, the polling did not go smoothly everywhere. In many outlying areas of Luanda, polling places opened hours late because they lacked ballot papers, voter registration lists or ballot boxes.

As the sun rose higher and the intensified, shoemaker Joao Paulo became angry after waiting several hours to cast his ballot at a polling only a few hundred meters away.

He says things are going badly here. We have been waiting a long time. They promised to open at seven o'clock. We have been here since 5:30 and nothing is happening.

The National Electoral Commission later took responsibility for the delays and by midday most polling places were operational. But as the day drew to a close many voters, particularly in outlying areas of Luanda, were seen still milling around some polling places, unable to vote because these had run out of ballot papers.

Independent observer groups confirmed the problems and one of them by the end of the day had recorded more than 200 irregularities, mostly due to technical problems. Few incidents of violence were reported.

A network of 2,500 Angolan observers, called Plataforma, protested after most of its 350 observers in populous Luanda Province were denied accreditation and some 100 observers in Huambo province, another hotly contested area, were only given credentials at the last minute.

National Coordinator, Onesimo Setacula told VOA he was shocked because his group had worked with the National Electoral Commission during the voter registration process.

He says this appears to a deliberate effort to muzzle an impartial, non-political voice that was entering the electoral process for the first time.

The Angolan government spent millions of dollars registering voters and funding the campaign. It is hoping the elections will put to rest the legacy of more than four decades of conflict, including a lengthy struggle for independence and a 27-year civil war.

More than 5,000 candidates competed for 220 seats in the legislative body.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) hopes to win a two-thirds majority that would allow it to change the Angolan constitution without opposition support.

But the main opposition party, the Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), hopes to gain seats by campaigning for change after three decades of MPLA political domination. Twelve smaller parties campaigned on similar platforms.

The government pledged a level playing field for all candidates and each was granted five minutes nightly on national television during the campaign. But opposition politicians and human rights groups said the government used its patronage and resources to dominate the campaign.

The vote is seen as a first test in anticipation of presidential elections next year.