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Angola votes in second peacetime polls

28 august 2012, 16:49
0
Photo courtesy of capitalfm.co.ke
Photo courtesy of capitalfm.co.ke
Angola votes Friday for only the second time since its civil war ended a decade ago, with the incumbent ruling party expected to sweep the polls, AFP reports.

The nation has transformed from one of the world's most desolate places to a fast-growing oil economy that sees itself as a regional player.

As the election nears, brightly coloured party flags drape across Luanda's streets, while on the sidewalks, volunteers like university student Jaime Cuanga stand with an iPad ready to help voters.

"We are here to help people find out where to vote," the volunteer for the National Electoral Commission said. Voters can show him their registration number, and he looks up their polling station on the tablet.

Despite the modern sheen, only about one quarter of Angolans have access to electricity. Those disparities, between the promises of Luanda's new luxury high-rises and the shacks that sprawl out from the city, lie at the heart of the campaign.

From many of the billboards beams the face of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, with his ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party's slogan: "Angola, growing more and sharing better."

In power for nearly 33 years, Dos Santos takes credit for guiding the country through the war and presiding over the peacetime boom.

Voters are expected to reward him and his party for the post-war boom with a fresh five-year term in office.

Under a new constitution the country has abolished direct presidential elections, and the leader of the party that wins the parliamentary vote automatically becomes the head of state.

Normally Dos Santos, who turns 70 on Tuesday, avoids public appearances. But in recent weeks he's travelled through the vast provinces opening train stations, courts and clinics to showcase his government's work.

Life has undoubtedly improved. An Angolan born in 1980 could expect a short, impoverished and probably violent life.

But life expectancy of barely 40 in 1980 has grown to more than 51 years now, with most of the gain made since the war ended.

Some of the world's most heavily mined lands have been cleared. Aside from a small separatist movement in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda, fighting has ended.

The economy is expected to grow by eight percent this year, and per capita the gross domestic product in 2009 was nearly $1,900 -- triple what it was in 2000, according to UN data.

Yet just over half (55 percent) of the population still lives in abject poverty, many without running water, sanitation or electricity.

Angola's new elites include a massively wealthy class, often close to the ruling clique, who have amassed fortunes built on oil and diamonds.

With more than half the nation younger than 18, many Angolans had little direct experience of war, especially in the capital Luanda where discontent among the youth has erupted into a small but sustained series of protests since last year.

"You're getting a generation already now coming through with not a lot of memory of war, whose expectations are very different, they're about jobs and about life prospects," said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the Chatham House think tank.

The youth protests are not aligned with any opposition party, and often seem to stem from bread-and-butter issues like water and jobs rather than politics.

The main opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) party, born of the rebellion that battled government for 27 years, won only 10 percent of the vote in 2008 polls.

Frustration within the party caused a split, with top Unita politico Abel Chivukuvuku forming the Casa party that appears to have struck a chord with some young Angolans with open calls for Dos Santos to go and a focus on quality of life issues.

Unita leader Isaias Samakuva has campaigned with calls to ensure a democratic vote, but it remains unclear if he can tap into the youthful discontent.

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