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Political Parties

Angola was a one-party state, under the MPLA, until 1991. Then, as part of the Bicesse peace settlement, multi-party politics were introduced. Power is centralised in the President, who appoints all key public office-bearers including the Governors of the 18 Provinces. More than 125 parties have since registered at one time or another, but the majority are moribund. Less than a dozen parties have any real organisation or support base.

The main agenda of the MPLA and UNITA in 1992 was to institutionalize the peace agreement and the actual division of power between the two former rivals, to the exclusion of any new opposition group. The creation of new parties was especially resisted by UNITA, which refused to be directly involved in multi-party meetings, but still tolerated their existence. Among the 20 to 30 new political parties that have emerged in Angola since the cease-fire, only a few appeared to have much substance. Most were offshoots of the MPLA/PT. The most prominent of the MPLA/PT-spawned parties was the PRD (Democratic Renewal Party), led by MPLA/PT dissidents who went underground after a failed coup attempt within the rarty apparatus in 1977. The party, led by Joaquim Pinto de Andra'e, formerly of the Angoian Civic Association, and Luis da Silva dos Passos, appealed to dissident intellectuals and members of the middle class. As the party's core leaders spent years in underground exile, the group had credibility as an alternative to the MPLA/PT and was credited by foreign observers in Luanda as having the best chance of the small parties to have some impact.

The CNDA (Angolan National and Democratic Convergence) was also composed of former MPLA/PT figures, but in this case not clearly divorced from the organization. The CNDA's partner in the National Opposition Council (CON), the PDA (Angolan Democratic Party), also lacked dissident credentials. Yet another MPLA/PT offshoot, the Movement of Angolan Democratic Unity for Reconstruction (MUDAR), led by a free-market, former MPLA/PT official, and the PDP-ANA (Progressive Democratic Party-National Angolan Alliance) made up the rest of the CON. UNITA dissidents formed the Angolan Democratic Forum (FDA). UNITA reportedly created other subsidiary parties to counter the parallel parties spun off the MPLA/PT.

Holden Roberto returned from exile, but the political prospects of his FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola), one of the original Angolan guerrilla movements, remained cloudy. The FNLA's traditional base was among the Bakongo ethnic group in the north, an area of the country which was in particular disarray. Much of the FNLA was co-opted into the MPLA/PT early in the civil war.

The Front for Democracy (FPD), another successor to the Angolan Civic Association, was led by intellectuals and stressed the development of Angolan civic institutions as the basis of true democracy. As with other small parties, lack of access to the media and the social situation in Angola made its influence questionable. The logo of FDP - a baobab tree - was similar to the one used by IFES. This fact obliged this institution to be very careful if it didn't want to be confused with this political movement. The FDP looked like a party tailored by Angolan intellectuals to suit Western tastes.

While the political party law of 1991 forbids parties to promote racial, tribal, or regional agendas, there will inevitably be some regional and tribal component to the contest. While UNITA is most often associated with the Ovimbundu (37% of the population) of the south and center, and the MPLA/PT with the more urban and Europeanized Kimbundu of the central coast (25% of the population), both parties can claim some degree of a national political base. It must be noted that legally the parties cannot have a tribal base. Even the discourse on "nrgritude" of UNITA is not grounded on tribalism but on the ideological work of the revolutionary propagandist Franz Fanon (author of The Wretched of the Earth).

The two major parties themselves seemed to have no clear ideological orientation, with seemingly non-controversial concepts such as national unity, peace, and economic development dominating their propaganda and discussions. Their fortunes at the presidential level would be determined by the strange match-up of UNITA's charismatic, forceful Jonas Savimbi and the MPLA/PT's reserved, colorless but well-known Eduardo dos Santos. In the case of UNITA especially, nobody could state the positions of its leader Jonas Savimbi on a variety of central issues, and whether they coincided with the views of its younger members. Savimbi modeled his organization as a single party, and his stands on many topics were clearly "statist". The MPLA maintained its old rhetoric, but the young renovators of the party defined themselves as social-democrats.

Angola held its first ever elections in September 1992, an event intended to end the 18-month transition between war and peace, as provided for in the Bicessse accords. But many of the key tasks of Bicesse had not been completed by that stage. Notably UNITA had largely not disarmed or demobilised, and the proposed new integrated Angolan Army had barely got off the ground. In spite of an election declared by the UN to be "generally free and fair", UNITA contested the results and took the country back to war. In the Presidential election, the MPLA’s candidate, Eduardo dos Santos won 49.6% of the vote while UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi secured 40%. In the parliamentary elections, the MPLA won 129 of the 220 seats, UNITA 70, while 10 parties shared the remaining 21 seats. A government of national unity, GURN, was put in place in April 1997 as agreed by the Lusaka Protocol, and UNITA deputies finally took their seats in the National Assembly at the same time.

On 23 July 2008, Angola's Constitutional Court authorized ten political parties and four coalitions to run in the 05 September 2008 legislative elections. The final list of participating entities contained few surprises; nine of the ten parties were currently represented in Parliament. The four coalitions, representing tiny parties and splinter constituencies, were unlikely to play a large role in the campaign. To approve the final 14, the Court worked quickly to winnow 34 candidate lists from 24 political parties and 10 coalitions. Of the 20 that failed to make the cut, most did not present the required number of legal signatures or did not offer a full list of candidates for each of the 18 provincial circuits.

The list contained few surprises, and pundits view the narrow list of 14 - in contrast to the 96 legal political parties on record before elections were called - as a welcome house-cleaning to remove miniscule and defunct parties. The lone surprise was the court's decision in favor of the candidate list presented by expelled PADEPA member Silva Cardoso over elected party President Carlos Leitao. The ruling hinged on a technicality - Leitao and PADEPA never officially repudiated Cardoso's "election" as party president following a conference he organized after his expulsion from the party and armed assault on the party's headquarters. Some opposition parties and members of civil society called the Court's decision "highly suspicious," as Cardoso is the brother of a senior MPLA member.

The list of approved parties/coalitions was as follows:

  1. MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which held 129 seats in the National Assembly.
  2. UNITA (National Union for the Total Independance of Angola), which held 70 seats in the National Assembly.
  3. PRS (Social Renovation Party), which held six seats in the National Assembly.
  4. FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola), which held 5 seats in the National Assembly.
  5. PLD (Liberal Democratic Party), which held three seats in the National Assembly.
  6. PRD (Party for Democratic Renovation), which held one seat in the National Assembly.
  7. PDP-ANA (National Alliance Party for Democratic Progress), which held one seat in the National Assembly.
  8. PAJOCA (Alliance of Youth, Workers, and Farmers Party of Angola), which held one seat in the National Assembly.
  9. FpD (Front for Democracy), which ran in the 1992 elections with the Democratic Aliance Coalition and won one seat.
  10. PADEPA (Party for the Democratic Support and Progress of Angola), which was founded in 1996.
  11. AD-Coligacao (Democratic Aliance Coalition), which held one seat in the National Assembly.
  12. ND (New Democratic Coalition), a new coalition.
  13. PPE (Electoral Policy Platform), a new coalition.
  14. FOFAC (Fraternal Angolan Forum Coalition), a new coalition.

Due to technical difficulties on election day, voting was extended through 06 September 2008 in some constituencies. The results of the elections were accepted by UNITA and most other opposition parties. The MPLA won 81.6% of the electorate, giving it an absolute majority with 191 out of 220 seats in parliament. The remaining 29 parliamentary seats were won by UNITA (16), the Social Renewal Party (PRS) (8), National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) (3), and the New Democracy (ND) coalition (2).

Election results in Angola show the party of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos sweeping to an easy victory. Angola's election commission says with most of the votes counted, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola had 72 percent of the vote. The leading opposition party, UNITA, won 18 percent. The new opposition Casa party received five and a half percent. African Union observers say the election was free and fair despite complaints of irregularities from both main opposition parties. UNITA has said it will appeal the results. Despite the victory for the MPLA, the election results show other parties making gains. The MPLA's share of the vote was down slightly from the 82 percent it received in 2008 while UNITA saw its total nearly double.

The parties that make up Angola's parliamentary opposition - UNITA, PRS, FNLA, and Nova Democracia - are relatively minor actors on the political scene. UNITA and FNLA, given their history as members of the triumvirate of resistance movements to the Portuguese, are household names. UNITA represented a significant force during the long years of the civil war, and continues to be the most important opposition party. But these parties no longer have any role in the executive branch, play a secondary role in parliament, and often seem unable to shape in any meaningful way the political processes of the country.

The opposition would argue that there are powerful institutional obstacles to their development, and they have a point. The MPLA holds Cidade Alta (the Angolan White House) and has huge majority in the parliament. The state controls much of the media and has set up limits to the independent media, particularly radio, which tends to keep opposition figures and issues out of the news. The government and party have a number of carrots and sticks to use on potential opponents. Even Angola's electoral law seems to conspire against the opposition. In 2009, the Constitutional Court dissolved many minor parties - a few of which were led by leaders with some measure of local notoriety - as parties that won less than 0.5% in the 2008 parliamentary elections were required by law to disband.

However, the opposition is responsible, at least in part, for its own weakness. In particular, there are four major failings.

The opposition does not have strong leadership, and there are significant internal divisions in nearly all of them. For the opposition, the days of charismatic independence movement leaders is over. UNITA head Isaias Samakuva is an articulate Embassy interlocutor with excellent English, but he has neither the stature nor the presence of former UNITA supremo Jonas Savimbi, killed in 2002. Samakuva did not provide effective leadership in the 2008 elections and has failed to re-energize his party since its crushing electoral defeat. Weekly independent "Seminario Angolense" listed Samakuva in its latest edition as one of the failures of 2009. For the moment, Samakuva appears to have control over UNITA, but there may be challengers in the wings, particularly Abel Chivukuvuku. As for the FNLA, headed from its creation until 2007 by independence leader Holden Roberto, the party is in meltdown. In a drawn out battle for party leadership, the courts recently decided in favor of Lucas Ngonda, a decision liable to create a schism with former president Ngola Kubango's supporters. PRS leader Eduardo Kuangana is a low-key figure with a modest regional (read ethnic) base whose party has also recently witnessed a messy parting of the ways between senior leadership. Nova Democracia head Quintino de Moreira - considered by some to LUANDA 00000785 002 OF 003 be a shill for the MPLA - is a political non-entity largely unknown before the 2008 elections.

The opposition has not found an issue set that speaks to the Angolan people. To the extend that there exists some groundswell of discontent with the decades of MPLA rule and Angola's poor social indicators, the opposition has failed to tap into it. In recent months, UNITA has focused on Dos Santos's failure to hold 2009 presidential elections and on the constitutional process. The elections issue has not gained much traction - perhaps because at least one IRI poll last year gave a much higher popular favorability rating to Dos Santos than to Samakuva or any other opposition figure - and the constitutional debate may be too complicated and arcane to appeal to a wide cross-section of voters. On occasion, UNITA reps speak out publicly regarding the failures of MPLA government, as UNITA's parliamentary whip did in the October opening session of the National Assembly, but without offering any credible alternative program. PRS is a strong proponent of a federal system, but in a country visibly working to knit itself together after years of civil war this has only limited, regional appeal. FNLA seems focused on internal problems, and Nova Democracia tows the MPLA line.

The MPLA is the only truly national party in Angola. While UNITA maintains offices in many parts of the country, its presence in a number of provinces is beginning to atrophy; the other parties are not present across Angola. The 2008 election results suggest none of the opposition parties have been able to generate even modest support nationwide and that in their traditional strongholds opposition parties have lost ground. During the elections, UNITA's best showing was in the southern and western provinces that essentially made up its power base during the war (Huambo, Bie, Benguela, Cuando Cubango, Moxico), but generally these were only in the 12-18 percent range. UNITA failed to score even in the low single digits in many other provinces. The one surprise score in the 2008 elections - UNITA's 31% showing in Cabinda - is probably a result of a protest vote by Cabindans with separatist sympathies, not a reflection of UNITA's organization in the province. The PRS did well only in its base in the Lundas, and the FNLA only in its northern stronghold of Zaire. On our travels up-country, we generally try to meet with representatives of the major political parties; we rarely, if ever, encounter dynamic, thoughtful opposition leaders in the provinces. The opposition's talent and political savvy, such as it is, is Luanda-based.

The opposition has difficulty communicating with voters. Limits on independent media certainly make this challenging. UNITA supporters do control Luanda-based Radio Despertar, although it has periodically been a target of government restrictions. A number of weekly newspapers, admittedly with circulations in the low thousands, also cover opposition positions, as does the influential Luanda-based Radio Ecclesia. The opposition, however, has largely failed to take advantage of these limited outlets, and there is no consistent, targeted message to the audiences available. For a variety of reasons - some to do with government controls and others to do with internal organizational problems - the opposition rarely resorts to more popular means of communication, like mass meetings or rallies, door-to-door campaigning, or distribution of leaflets. Samakuva told DCM this fall that UNITA had considered demonstrations on the constitutional issue but had ultimately decided against doing so, "in the interests of public security." UNITA presumably has enough support in some Luanda neighborhoods to gather a good crowd, but the party's decision to avoid doing so may suggest fears about low turnout as much as concerns about possible violence.

For democracy to take firm root in a post-conflict country like Angola, a strong, vibrant, self-assured opposition is vital. There are many external reasons why Angola's opposition has yet to fully assume this role, but many of its failures are internal. Longer term, therefore, political development in Angola may depend as much on democratization within the MPLA as it does on further development of Angola's weak opposition parties.

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Page last modified: 23-08-2013 19:27:25 ZULU