LUANDA, ANGOLA —
Angola's ruling MPLA party has won the country's general election, extending its 42-year hold on power and ensuring that Defense Minister Joao Lourenco will be the country's next president.
Hours before the electoral commission announced the party's 64 percent lead in Wednesday's poll, the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola declared that it was assured of victory in a poll that it called "free, secret and joyful."
But the leading opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, said that their independent vote count told a different story. Official results gave the party just over 24 percent.
"These results which were presented are different from the results we have," UNITA MP Estevao Jose Pedro Katchiungo told journalists after the preliminary results were announced Thursday. "But we know we have time to verify this. Let's stay calm."
UNITA has not said whether it will contest the final results in court.
The MPLA has dominated all aspects of public life in Angola — and is accused of plundering state resources in the oil-rich nation. During the campaign, opposition parties accused the ruling party of using government resources for campaigning. The MPLA has denied irregularities, and observers have largely praised the poll for being peaceful and orderly.
On Friday morning, state television praised the poll and quoted voters who effusively did the same.
But in parts of the capital, voters questioned the initial results. Luanda province is the largest, and initial results there gave the ruling party a razor-thin 50 percent share.
Luciano Joaquim, 47, a resident of the opposition-heavy Cazenga neighborhood, said he believes the opposition performed better than the initial results indicated. As of Friday morning, large swaths of the capital had yet to be counted.
"I disagree with these results announced by the electoral commission," Joaquim told VOA. "I disagree because during the campaign on state television, people said they wanted change."
Despite the victory announced Friday, it's clear that Angolan voters are slowly chipping away at the hegemony of the powerful MPLA, which has ruled Angola as a de facto one-party state since independence from Portugal in 1975. In 2008, the party won 82 percent of the vote; in 2012, 72 percent.
Since 1979, one man has led the party and the nation: President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is stepping down at age 74 amid rumors of poor health. He will continue to lead the party, but his defense minister, Joao Lourenco, is now poised to take the reins as Angola's president — its first new leader in 38 years.