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ANGOLA TO ELECT NEW PRESIDENT AS DOS SANTOS RETIRES

August 22, 2017 | Uhuruspirit

MPLA members at their final rally ahead of the election on August 19, 2017. © REUTERS / Stephen Eisenhammer



Angola will go to the polls on Wednesday in a historic election marking the end of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' 38-year reign, with his party set to retain power despite the country's economic crisis.

The MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola), has ruled the country since its 1975 independence from Portugal.

While many credit President dos Santos for leading the country to recovery at the end of the war in 2002, others accuse him of staying in office too long. He is the world's second-longest serving president, behind Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

Dos Santos's retirement - reportedly prompted by ill health - has triggered the biggest political transition in decades for Angola, a leading oil-exporter in Africa.

"Dos Santos brought forward his departure to after these elections due to his deteriorating health," Alex Vines, of the Chatham House think-tank, told AFP news agency.

While dos Santos will be stepping down as the president, he will continue as leader of the MPLA.

In February, he named Defence Minister Joao Lourenco as his chosen successor.

"Lourenco is an ideal transitional successor to dos Santos. He is respected by the military and has not lived a flamboyant lifestyle of many others," said Vines.

At a weekend rally in front of thousands of MPLA party supporters, dos Santos, a frail-looking 74-year-old, made a brief appearance to endorse the likely new president.

"We have no doubt about the victory of the MPLA, and our candidate will be the future president, which is why I ask you: August 23, vote MPLA ... and Joao Lourenco," he said in a weak voice.

Dos Santos has been dogged by reports of illness and his regular visits to Spain for "private" reasons fuelled criticism that his health status was being hidden from ordinary Angolans.

Earlier this year, his daughter Isabel - who has become a billionaire and Africa's richest businesswoman under his rule - was forced to deny rumours he had died in Spain.

Dos Santos' long rule has seen the end of Angola's bloody civil war that lasted from 1975 to 2002, and he has presided over a post-war investment boom as the country exploited its oil reserves.

But the flood of money brought little benefit to Angola's poor, and the crash in oil prices in 2014 triggered a full-scale economic crisis.

Opposition parties, who have a low profile due to restrictions on their activities and lack of finance, have sought to tap into public anger at the government.

"You who are suffering, you who are in poverty, without electricity, without jobs or nothing to eat - change is now," Isaias Samakuva, candidate for the main opposition UNITA party told supporters on the campaign trail.

Samakuva, 71, took over UNITA after longtime rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in 2002, a death that marked the beginning of the end of a 27-year civil war.

He has already lodged a complaint that some of his party agents have not received the necessary authorizations from the electoral commission.

During his last campaign rally on Monday, Samakuva stressed the secrecy of the vote and called on voters not to be intimidated by the MPLA.

The ruling party still insists that Unita is synonymous with war and conflict, but Unita defends itself and attacks its rival on the economic front, denouncing the poverty in which the Angolan population still lives in despite the wealth that the country possesses.

Lourenco, 63, has focused in his campaign speeches on vowing to "fight against corruption", "create jobs" and "make Angola better".

Just a month before the election, Angola's parliament passed a law that prohibits the new president from sacking the heads of the army, police and intelligence services for eight years.

Lawmakers also granted Mr Dos Santos a seat on the Council of the Republic which, Bloomberg reports, gives him immunity from prosecution.

As one politics expert, Dalvan Costa, put it to the BBC, the president is "partially holding on to power".

He points to former Prime Minister Marcolino Moco, who he says put it like this: "He's closing the doors but taking the keys."

Campaigns closed midnight on Monday ahead to the election on Wednesday in which 9 million voters are eligible to vote.

- with agencies



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