The near defeat of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in last week’s general legislative elections has created hope and uncertainty about the country’s future.The MPLA squeaked home with an official 51% of the vote to the 44% of its old civil war enemy and later political rival, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA contested the election as part of a de facto coalition with PRA-JA Servir Angola and the Democratic Bloc.Many observers, and UNITA itself, believe the National Election Commission (CNE), which the MPLA controls, doctored the outcomes. UNITA challenged them with the electoral body and is expected to announce its own parallel voter tabulation. The CNE parried UNITA’s objection – saying it was submitted too late – and promptly released the results the next day. So it seems UNITA will resort to the Constitutional Court.But even the official result was a stunning setback for the MPLA and a huge psychological boost for the opposition. In the 2017 elections, the MPLA won 61% and UNITA only 26.67%. In slashing the ruling party’s majority by 27% last week, UNITA and its United Patriotic Front coalition delivered its best election result thus far. This was by far the MPLA’s worst performance since multiparty democracy began in 1992.UNITA also completely swept Luanda, beating the MPLA by about 63% to 33%. The opposition party radically transformed itself from a rural, traditionalist and provincial party under its late founder Jonas Savimbi, into an urban party supported by young people.This was by far the MPLA’s worst performance since multiparty democracy began in 1992UNITA’s dynamic new leader Adalberto Costa Júnior gets much credit for this about-turn. But the MPLA’s failure to address grinding poverty, which is in many ways worse in the city, also played a role.The ball is now in UNITA’s court. The CNE could refuse any re-appraisal of the election, and the Constitutional Court – also partisan – could uphold the MPLA’s victory. UNITA might then demand an international observer team visits Angola to verify the official results against those calculated by UNITA and civil society groups like Mudei, which also believes UNITA won.What will UNITA do if this fails, as it probably will? In 2017, the party’s leaders were criticised for accepting defeat and taking up their seats in Parliament after the Constitutional Court rejected their challenge. Should it resort to the streets this time?Independent Angolan expert Paula Cristina Roque told ISS Today that if UNITA called its supporters to march on the presidential palace, ‘there’ll be a massive wave of popular support that will put pressure on [President João] Lourenço and the MPLA.’ The problem is that although the march would probably be peaceful, ‘they will be received with violence … not rubber bullets … live ammunition. And that’s what everyone wants to avoid.’UNITA transformed itself from a rural, traditionalist party into an urban party supported by the youth
looting Angola’s vast resources. And perhaps the ruling party might also retreat even further from democracy to avoid another embarrassing near defeat.One recalls Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections when ZANU-PF made the tactical error of allowing the MDC to win. That error was soon corrected, and since then, the ruling party has been steadily but systematically dismembering the MDC.None of Southern Africa’s former liberation movements in government has yet conceded power – so it’s hard to imagine any of them doing so.