LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola’s ruling MPLA party won national elections by a clear margin, its electoral commission said on Friday, citing a provisional tally that the two main opposition parties however rejected.
Two days after a ballot that passed peacefully, with almost all votes counted and the public mood predominantly calm, the result maintained the party’s unbroken hold on power since sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
Tarnished by political cronyism, its share of the vote fell, but president-in-waiting Joao Lourenco retained the strong parliamentary majority he will need to make good on campaign pledges to reform a battered economy.
A former defense minister, Lourenco will become the country’s first new president for 38 years.
The long-time leader he is replacing, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, will however continue as head of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
With close to 98 percent of the vote counted, the MPLA held a 61.1 percent share against the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) party’s 26.7 percent, said National Electoral Commission spokeswoman Julia Ferreira.
International observers described the election as reasonably free and fair and the streets of the capital Luanda and other cities were calm.
But UNITA said the results had not been gathered transparently and did not tally with its count.
“We reject completely these provisional results,” Raul Danda, the party’s candidate for vice president, told Reuters. “We don’t know where they come from.”
CASA-CE, a smaller opposition party that polled 9.46 percent of votes, also rejected the provisional results and said it would release its own tally.
The MPLA, which emerged victorious over UNITA after 27 years of civil war in 2002, dismissed the complaints.
According to the electoral commission, the MPLA won 150 of 220 parliamentary seats — 25 fewer than in the previous election in 2012 but retaining the two thirds majority needed to pass any legislation.
But the party lost its majority in Luanda for the first time, winning 48 percent, while UNITA increased its total of lawmakers to 51 from 32.
“It’s a good result for the MPLA, but it’s not a massive tidal wave majority,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at London’s Chatham House.
“They know they’ve got to get serious reform in,” he added, saying Lourenco would have to attract investments to stave off a forecast decline in oil production.
Claudio Silva, who sits on the electoral commission as a UNITA representative, said the provisional results had been processed without the involvement of some members of the commission’s board or the input of provincial counting centers.
“The process violated the law and the principles of democracy,” he told Reuters.
João Martins, MPLA secretary for political and electoral affairs, said the final result should be awaited calmly.
“If they (UNITA) have complaints there are official channels to make them, rather than doing so in public, which seems to be the strategy of the opposition,” he added.
Angola has been mostly peaceful since the end of the war in 2002, but the OPEC state - Africa’s second largest oil producer - is in dire need of reforms to boost an economy hammered in the last three years by low crude prices.
Lourenco has promised to kick-start the economy and has not ruled out deals with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to help restructure it. Angola imports everything from washing powder to long-life milk at huge cost.
A quiet 63-year-old more used to army barracks and the closed doors of party politics than the public spotlight, Lourenco has denied he will remain in dos Santos’ shadow.
Others are not sure.
“The influence of the party elite and the dos Santos family will limit (Lourenco’s) room for maneuver,” John Ashbourne, analyst at Capital Economics, said in a note.
Editing by James Macharia and John Stonestreet