The Angolan government is sharply denying a report by a United States based human rights group that charges that the upcoming general elections will not be free and fair. Human Rights Watch says evidence gathered shows the government has been intimidating opposition political parties and meddling in the activities of the electoral commission, which would threaten any chance of a fair vote. But President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos' government denies the report, saying it wants a credible vote to set an example on the African continent, which has been plagued recently with disputed elections.
Angola is hoping to hold its first elections in 16 years since the country recovered from civil war and its related loss of lives and property. Georgette Gagnon is the director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. She tells reporter Peter Clottey that the Angolan government needs to address issues raised in the report to ensure a free and fair vote in the general election.
"What we found is that the conditions for free and fair elections are not currently in existence in Angola. The government is intimidating opposition parties and the media, and there has also been some interference in the electoral commission. So this means people may not be able to cast their votes freely," Gagnon pointed out.
She said despite government denials, more has to be to be done to ensure a credible vote that would be up to international standards.
"They (government) need to do a number of things, and they could do them to ensure the elections are free and fair. For example, they could properly enforce the electoral code and they could investigate properly any reports of violence, and intimidation. They also haven't allowed equal access to public media for political parties. So they could open that up. And also, they haven't allowed electoral observers from the European Union, from the SADC (Southern African Development Community), and from other places to come in. They haven't approved them yet, and that would be a good signal showing that they are concerned about a free and fair election if they did all these things," she said.
Gagnon said the government's aim to set an impeccable example with a credible election could only be achieved if it addressed the concerns raised in the report.
"Yes, the government of Angola could take concrete steps to make the election more free and fair. Currently, those conditions do not exist," Gagnon noted.
She described as disturbing reports of violence and intimidation of partisans of the opposition political parties ahead of the general elections.
"What we found is over the last two years, particularly in rural areas most affected by the civil war, that there have been assaults by local ruling party supporters MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) supporters against local UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) party members and their property and their party symbols," she said.
Gagnon said the security agencies have so far failed to deal with various allegations of intimidation and violence.
"And most troubling, the law enforcement agencies have not investigated or prosecuted properly any of these people or the allegations of political violence. And there have also been issues of course in the province of Kabinda, very serious government repression there for many years, which has gotten worse over the last year and half or so in the run up to the election," Gagnon pointed out.