LUANDA, ANGOLA —
Angolans cast ballots Wednesday in the first election in decades that doesn't include long-time President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. The ruling party is widely projected to maintain power, but some voters have made clear they are casting ballots for change.
On Wednesday, Angola’s retiring president did something he hasn’t done in decades: He voted for someone else.
Just after 9 a.m. local time, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos shuffled slowly into a side entrance of Luanda’s polling station 1047, at a law school named after the nation’s first president. Dos Santos took the reins after Agostinho Neto died in 1979.
After dos Santos cast his ballot, he and his entourage slowly walked out. He did not speak to the press, and ignored VOA’s question about whom he voted for.
But dos Santos previously made his choice clear.
"I am here," he told this massive crowd during the final pre-election rally of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, to support our candidate.
And it’s likely his chosen successor, Defense Minister Joao Lourenco, will prevail. The MPLA is predicted to win this legislative election; its top candidate, Lourenco, would then become president.
The next president will inherit a country dependent on oil and imports, and beset by high unemployment and inflation so dire that the black market exchange rate for dollars is double the official rate.
Dos Santos has repeatedly been accused of flagrant corruption, and his children run several powerful state enterprises. Meanwhile, the majority of Angolans lives in poverty, without basic services.
Anger over this inequality propelled Angolans to action, including 42-year-old Esperanca Francisco Domingos.
“Today is my first time voting because I was never interested in voting and I never knew the value of voting," she said. "And today, and I voted for change. I voted for change because everybody says that we have to vote for change, we have to vote for change. And let’s see, as time goes by, if our lives change. Because we don’t see any change and we are suffering."
Others, like 62-year-old Maria Boaventura, were more optimistic as they cast their ballot.
“I think there are better prospects, she said, adding, "It seems that there will be more transparency," said Boaventura.
Voters say they’re also seeking an end to the high levels of perceived corruption. Sixty-five-year-old Adolfo Macuanga condemned the dos Santos family’s lavish lifestyle.
“His son bought an $5,000 watch in London. And those of us who fought for the country, what do we have? Nothing," he said.
The six political parties have discussed the economy at length, with Lourenco promising to diversify the economy, and the leading opposition UNITA party pledging to crack down on corruption and welcome foreign investment.
For many Angolans, however, this election is also a novel opportunity to do what the president did: vote for someone new.
“It is an ambitious election,” said 55-year old Joao Malungo, adding that he is honored to vote in his country.
Officials have said results are expected the day after the election.