Angola prepares for vote Friday
rahul | September 4, 2008 at 01:35 amby
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2008-09-04 09:31:01 - LUANDA, Angola (AP) - The paradox of Angola is evident in its crowded capital, where the luxury cars of petro-millionaires lurch along dilapidated roads past piles of garbage and pools of stagnant water.
The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, which faces the longtime ruling party in elections Friday, has urged impoverished Angolans to vote for change.
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' Popular Liberation Movement of Angola _ accused by international human rights groups of corruption and mismanagement _ says it is making progress transforming a nation destroyed by civil war. The campaign period has been accompanied by street repairs in some parts of the capital.
Angola is rich in diamonds, and the newest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries produces 1.6 million barrels a day, according to the cartel. With oil prices soaring, that has meant boom time for some. Yet the country has among of the worst infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.
On the campaign trail, dos Santos has promised to create jobs, build homes and boost agriculture to fight hunger.
The last time Angolans went to the polls, in presidential and legislative balloting held during a break in decades of civil war in 1992, disputes over the outcome led to fighting. This time, the lead-up to the voting has been relatively peaceful, but some Angolans remain fearful.
Simao Zuanga, 29, said he fled his home region of Nambuangongo for the capital during the campaign, fearing a repeat of 1992.
«I'm not going to vote,» he added in an interview. «Voting won't give me work.
Ana Maria Giumaraes placed more faith in democracy. The 60-year-old shop owner said she voted in 1992, and would vote again Friday _ for the ruling party, known by the initials of its name in Portuguese, MPLA.
«I don't see how this party can do wrong to the people who love it,» she said.
More than 8 million people in this country of more than 16 million are registered to vote. While they voted for president and lawmakers in 1992, only seats in the 220-member parliament _ 125 of which are now held by MPLA politicians _ are being contested. Presidential elections have been set for next year.
The MPLA was expected to retain control. Results from the parliamentary vote were expected next week.
«This moment represents an unprecedented step towards ... improving the lawful and democratic state,» dos Santos, president almost since independence from Portugal in 1975, told his countrymen as he opened the campaign period earlier this year. «Since the first general elections held in 1992, we have been advancing in the direction of political normalcy, sometimes slower and some other times faster ....
While dos Santos was optimistic, observers may find Angola has too much in common with neighbors such as Zimbabwe or Congo.
One party has been in power so long in Zimbabwe that its dominance over the media, security forces and the economy put the opposition at an almost insurmountable disadvantage.
Years of civil war in Congo make a mockery of democracy in other ways, leaving infrastructure so shattered that just getting to a polling station is a challenge, and citizens so impoverished, deprived of education and alienated from would-be leaders that it is difficult to determine what guides them in the voting booth.
But Angola's vote can be at least a step away from the past, and other countries in the region include some of Africa's democratic success stories. South Africa has had two peaceful general elections since apartheid's 1994 end. Botswana has a long history of political and economic stability.
In Angola, Human Rights Watch, citing intimidation of opposition parties and journalists, said last month that prospects for free and fair elections were threatened. Prime Minister Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos insisted in response that the vote would be «free, fair and transparent.» Observers from the United States and the Southern African Development Community were among those planning to keep an eye on the vote.
Dos Santos' MPLA has been in power since Agostinho Neto became the first president of the post-independence government recognized by the United Nations in 1976. Upon Neto's death from cancer in 1979, then-Planning Minister dos Santos ascended to the presidency.
Fighting broke out after independence and ended in 2002 when the army killed Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA. UNITA now is led by Isaias Samakuva.
Dos Santos beat Savimbi in the first round of the 1992 presidential election, but Savimbi refused to accept defeat and returned to war before the second round could be held.
Lawmakers elected for what was to have been a four-year term in 1992 still sit. Dos Santos, repeatedly pressed to call elections, had delayed, citing logistical problems.
Some 1 million Angolans are estimated to have died in the war, and hundreds of millions of others were orphaned or maimed.
Today, much of the government's resources go to caring for the war's victims _ and the past continues to claim casualties. As many as 8 million land mines remain buried here, and they injure or kill at least 300 people a year, according to the United Nations Mine Action Center.
«We must turn away from this cycle (of war) and return to ... normality,» dos Santos said earlier this year.
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