Meddling With Angola’s Electoral Register is Unconstitutional

Why does Angola need a new Electoral Registration Law?   Particularly one which would transfer control of the electoral register from the independent National Electoral Commission to the Ministry of Territorial Administration under the tutelage of Bornito de Sousa, one of the President’s staunch supporters in the ruling MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola)?

It’s a contentious move both in political and legal terms.

Politically, it attributes to the party in power, the government of the day, the power to determine who can, and who can’t, vote.

Legally, it violates the Angolan Constitution which explicitly attributes oversight of the electoral process to an independent body.  Article 107, Clause 1 of the Angolan Constitution states: “The electoral processes are organized by independent electoral administrative bodies whose structure, function, composition and competence are defined by law”.

It is an internationally-accepted principle that the “electoral process” includes the compilation and upkeep of a register that is meant to include all those who meet the qualifications, such as nationality, age and residence, that entitle citizens to vote.
In Angola the competent independent body is the National Electoral Commission (the CNE).  More than 600 CNE electoral commissioners have signed a petition to the National Assembly (the Angolan parliament) raising their concerns about the risks posed by this potential change to the law.

Their concerns are shared by election experts around the world.

Control over who is registered to vote can confer control over the outcome of an election, particularly in countries with deficient systems of civil registration and data control, such as Zimbabwe – or Angola.

In effect, transferring this control from an independent body to the President’s cronies opens the door to myriad opportunities for fraud:  those with a legitimate right to vote can be left off the register, disenfranchised at a stroke; the names of the dead can be kept on the list, allowing others to vote in their stead; multiple identities can be assumed by one individual, who can then vote repeatedly.

It’s more sophisticated than stuffing ballot boxes and removes the inconvenience of having to play hide and seek with national or international observers during the count.

Democracy is not just about who wins an election.  It’s about winning the election legitimately and transparently. Most countries would see it as highly undesirable to stage an election susceptible to challenge over deficient constitutional process.

Angola’s leader is about to celebrate his 37th anniversary at the apex of power.  But José Eduardo dos Santos knows he is no longer popular. In spite of repeated promises to ‘step down’, he is standing for re-election in 2017.

Presidents who cling to power for too many years are rarely true believers in democracy. They tend to lose confidence in their ability to secure a majority by free and fair elections. All too often they resort to the tried-and-tested strategy of staging an election in an attempt to prove their democratic credentials, while resorting to poll-rigging to ensure they cannot be unseated.

And the longer they cling to power, the more convinced dictators become of their supreme intelligence and invincibility. They fail to see their mistakes and by repeating them, inexorably sow the seeds of their downfall. Lately Angola has witnessed a bounty of ridiculous errors by the man now seen by many as an “elected dictator”. Hamfisted negotiations with the IMF, ineptitude in dealing with opposition activists, handing over the state oil company, Sonangol to his favoured daughter, Isabel dos Santos. Angola’s elected leader is failing on many fronts.

And yet he cannot see what is staring everyone else in the face: that the time to go is now, when there is a reasonable chance of a peaceful and orderly handover. Instead the man who has clung so tenaciously to power for the past 37 years is determined to “win” the 2017 elections.

As a body with the experience of conducting previous elections in Angola, there is no doubt of the CNE’s competence to conduct this work. Neither is there any doubt that the compilation and maintenance of the electoral register is part of the electoral process entrusted to the CNE.

Isn’t it then imperative for the future of the democratic process in Angola that CNE continue to take charge of the electoral register? Constitutional experts are urging the national assembly to reject the Electoral Register Law and reaffirm the constitutional right of the independent CNE to oversee the entire electoral process.