August 16, 2017 / 11:02 AM / 2 years ago

Angola’s UNITA open to coalition of opposition parties after election

LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola’s UNITA is willing to form a coalition government with other opposition parties after elections next Wednesday if the ruling MPLA party loses power for the first time since independence in 1975, its presidential candidate said.

FILE PHOTO: Isaias Samakuva, leader of Angola's main opposition UNITA party , addresses supporters in Viana, near the capital Luanda, August 29, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) won just 18 percent in the last election in 2012 and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won a landslide 72 percent.

But with Angola in the midst of an economic crisis caused by a fall in oil prices, the opposition is hoping to grow its tally, though a lack of credible polling in the country makes the result unpredictable.

The electoral commission has said the vote will be fair.

UNITA is campaigning on a broad platform for change, promising to increase spending on education and health, combat corruption and open the economy to more foreign investment.

“We need to have an opposition that is capable of stopping certain acts which constitute abuses of power,” UNITA President Isaias Samakuva told Reuters on Tuesday, adding he would welcome working with the rest of the opposition.

When asked whether a coalition government made up of the main opposition parties was possible, Samakuva replied: “We don’t see any difficulty on our part in a situation of that nature.”

Such a coalition would be formed predominantly with Angola’s second opposition party: Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola – Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE).

The party won 6 percent in 2012, at its first appearance on the ballot, but the few polls available suggest it should gain ground this time, attracting younger voters disillusioned by the two main parties that fought on opposite sides of Angola’s long civil war.

UNITA had western backing in the 27-year conflict in the former Portuguese colony that ended in 2002.

The opposition is hoping to win votes because of a recent poor economic track record by the ruling party.

After years of oil-fuelled growth that averaged 7.2 percent between 2003 and 2015, Angola slipped into recession last year with the economy contracting 3.6 percent, according to government data that was published online in April but later removed. Unemployment is over 20 percent.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is to step down after 38 years at the helm of a country that has become Africa’s No. 2 crude producer.

The MPLA has chosen Defence Minister Joao Lourenco as its presidential candidate, though dos Santos is set to retain sweeping powers as president of the MPLA after the poll.

ELECTION MONITORING 

Samakuva said UNITA were monitoring closely the electoral process for signs of fraud, adding the party has already made a series of complaints to the National Electoral Commission.

Issues raised by UNITA include the allocation of inconveniently located polling stations to voters who sometimes live in different provinces and problems registering UNITA party members to accompany the vote.

The European Union has scrapped plans to observe the elections after Luanda failed to agree to a package of conditions, including access to all parts of the country during the poll, it said in July.

Samakuva said UNITA would have party members at every polling station to monitor the count.

“In previous elections, we took the results that we got, but this time from what I see in the whole country, UNITA is destined to get a good result,” he said.

Asked if UNITA might reject the results if it believed there had been electoral fraud, Samakuva said: “It won’t be UNITA... If the national electoral commission doesn’t conduct the vote with transparency it will be the electorate themselves that will take action.”

Editing by James Macharia and Alister Doyle

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