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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ANGOLA: Rising expectations of a national poll

JOHANNESBURG, 8 January 2004 (IRIN) - While there is broad consensus that peace in Angola has finally taken root after years of civil conflict, the proposed national elections next year are being seen as a test of the government's commitment to democracy.

"The holding of a national poll is a formidable challenge, not only for the government and the opposition, but for the entire country. The successful staging of general elections will signal to the international community and Angolans the return of the democratic process, and consolidate peace," senior researcher Jaoa Porto at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies told IRIN.

While optimism surrounds the current peace agreement between former rebel group UNITA and the government, already there has been debate over when the election should be held.

Both President Eduardo Dos Santos and UNITA, now the largest opposition party, appear to want elections to take place in 2005. However, there has not been a formal announcement as yet.

Porto said an official announcement from the authorities should be made soon as this would communicate to ordinary Angolans the government's commitment to entrenching democracy in a country that experienced 27 years of war.

"We should not forget that the memories of the 1992 elections are still very fresh in the minds of many Angolans - the hope for peace that went along with those elections was shattered very soon after the event. It is therefore important that the government comes forward soon to announce an election date, to assure Angolans that democracy has finally arrived," Porto added.

Although the UN-supervised presidential and legislative elections of 1992 were described by international observers as free and fair, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi rejected the results and resumed the civil war.

While analysts agree that the elections in 2005 are a necessary step for ensuring sustainable peace in Angola, they have also remarked that a number of conditions need to be put in place before the poll is held.

"Although there has been some progress with respect to the rights of citizens, the task is not complete. More needs to be done to ensure the free movement of people - thousands of internally displaced people need to be resettled and reintegrated before the elections can take place," Sabine Fandrych of the German NGO, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, said.

Porto agreed: "It is imperative that there is a commitment to ensuring that people and goods can move freely throughout the country. If some communities remain inaccessible or displaced it will undermine the entire electoral process."

He added that voter registration was also necessary, given that the last registration campaign was conducted in 1992, almost 12 years ago.

Accelerating the constitutional reform process and clarifying electoral laws are seen as other essential elements in preparing for legitimate democratic elections.

Rights groups have called on the government to guarantee a level playing field for all political parties and candidates in the lead-up to the elections. On two occasions last year UNITA complained its members were harassed by MPLA supporters in certain parts of the country when it tried to set up regional party offices.

"Elections will help to facilitate multiparty democracy, which the country has never truly known. But we call on the government to make sure that we are given a fair chance," UNITA secretary for foreign affairs, Alcides Sakala, told IRIN.

The ruling MPLA has dominated the political landscape in Angola since independence in 1975.

Although the elections are mainly seen as a contest between UNITA and the government, Fandrych noted, the formulation of electoral rules and processes should include public participation.

"To this end, civil society organisations, members of the public and all political parties must work together. It is important that Angolans feel as if they are part of the entire process in order to ensure its legitimacy," she said.

Themes: (IRIN) Governance



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