The MPLA’s election plan

The action plan for the electoral campaign of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which formally starts on July 31, contains strategies that need to be made plain for all to see, in the interests of peace, political stability, and the distinction between party and state.

For the first phase of the campaign, MPLA defines the need to pay special attention “critical areas to ensure order and tranquillity among voters”. To this end, MPLA envisages to “instruct activists, sympathizers and friends of the MPLA and other voters not to take part in any actions that may suggest electoral impropriety, and to refrain from practising any kind of violence against other political parties or their activists.”

It also underscores the need to “denounce political parties, civil society organizations and citizens who incite voters to violence, disturbance or electoral fraud.”

The communications and security committee of MPLA’s electoral campaign, which is responsible for implementing these decisions, is co-ordinated by its politburo secretary for war veterans, Francisco Magalhães Paiva “Nvunda”, seconded by the deputy chief of the Intelligence and State Security Services (SINSE), Eduardo Fernando Bárber Octávio.

But MPLA’s action presents two practical contradictions.

MPLA activists have regularly and violently attacked UNITA members who have been trying to carry out political activities in various places in Benguela and Huambo provinces. These confrontations have resulted in deaths and injuries, which neither the MPLA nor the local authorities have acknowledged. MPLA has made no unambiguous public statements to discourage acts of violence on the part of its activists, and neither have any disciplinary or criminal proceedings been brought against those who disturb public order in this way.

In Benguela, where the situation has been most serious, the authorities have responded by deploying four military companies in areas considered sensitive in terms of political rivalry between MPLA and UNITA. For example, on July 5, a company of 90 Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) troops turned a primary school in Chingongo commune, Balombo municipality, into a military garrison. The authorities moved the children outside to have their lessons under a tree. Day and night, the soldiers constantly patrol areas where UNITA is strongest, such as the village of Kangumbe.

On July 18, the company deployed in Capupa commune, Cubal municipality, received reinforcements of more soldiers and arms, including artillery. In these areas, as well as in Bocoio and Ganda municipalities, soldiers use heavy weapons in their patrols, including PKM guns, and have been creating a climate of insecurity and intimidation among UNITA members. The FAA chief of the General Staff, General Geraldo Nunda, visited the province to oversee the military deployment during the electoral period.

If there is a need to use heavy weapons and military patrols among communities during the election period, then either the government or the army needs to explain to the public what the reason is for these measures that look like preparation for war. The ruling MPLA has secured a monopoly on violence.

The MPLA electoral strategy defines the provinces of Benguela, Bié, Huambo, Kwanza-Sul, Luanda and Uíge as the provinces with the largest electorate, which deserve its special attention.

UNITA, for its part, is most strongly rooted in Benguela, Bié and Huambo provinces, and has also capitalised on social discontent in Luanda. Since the death of its leader, Jonas Savimbi, 10 years ago, UNITA’s political structures have suffered from crippling and regular defections to MPLA. The ruling party has so infiltrated the ranks of its political foe to the extent that it is reasonable to state that MPLA has an effective control over the UNITA leadership.

The visible presence of Eduardo Fernando Bárber Octávio, the deputy chief of the Intelligence and State Security Services (SINSE), on the MPLA electoral campaign co-ordinating committee is a violation of the Law on Political Parties, which prohibits members of the FAA and the National Police from being actively involved in political parties. Eduardo Octávio is an officer of the National Police, with the rank of commissioner. His dual role also violates the Constitution, which establishes the National Police as a non-partisanship institution and, likewise, thus requires its agents on active duty to be non-partisan.

These contradictions give rise to an important question: must voters believe in what the MPLA says or in what it does?

As a great political and national security analyst said, anonymously, “no one is investing in [keeping the situation] calm, because we come from generations of conflict. Only confrontation really motivates us.”  The analyst also regrets the way in which sectors of society, above all the elite, capitalise on the use of violence to maintain their privileges.

This time, MPLA is fearful of the consequences of social discontentment throughout the country, and the influence of the Arab Spring in the consciousness of many Angolans. And because the vote and electoral promises will make little or no difference to the political and socio-economic set-up, the fundamental question is: between dialogue and violence, what is MPLA’s real choice? After 37 years in power, MPLA faces a dilemma between clinging into power at all costs, and letting people to freely express their will.