Angola: The Stolen Elections

Something has happened with the Angolan elections of August 23 that may well be a first in Africa, if not universally. The spokesperson of the National Electoral Commission (CNE) yesterday announced “preliminary results” of the general elections when votes had not been tallied at municipal, provincial, or national levels. The CNE official simply read a statement saying that the ruling MPLA, in power for the last 42 years, had won the elections by 64.57%, a landslide. According to the official, the main opposition UNITA trailed behind with 24.04%, the coalition CASA-CE came in third with 8.56%, while three other parties split the remainder of the votes. With the 63% of the votes the CNE claims to have been counted, it has already gone ahead to allocate the 220 parliamentary seats, giving the ruling MPLA a two-thirds majority with 154 seats. After the public’s disbelief, CNE lowered MPLA’s majority to 61.10% and 150 seats.

“False,” “fabricated,” “invented,” and “made up” are some of the words that various watchers and monitors of the electoral process have used to describe the results and numbers announced by CNE. Nowhere in Angola’s 18 provinces were votes tallied beyond the polling station. Members of the National Electoral Commission who were on duty at the local, provincial and national level have confirmed that they did not observe or undertake any collation or tallying of results. Seven members of the National Electoral Commission board held a night press conference yesterday to distance themselves from the announced results. They stated in no uncertain terms that there had been no official tallying of results anywhere beyond the polling stations. Furthermore, they explained that, by law, they must certify the tallying at the national level with all of their signatures for any official results to be valid. That, however, did not happen. The situation was the same at the municipal and provincial levels. There was no tallying and, therefore, no certification of results took place at either of those levels.

But it does not matter anymore. Prior to the announcement by the spokesperson of CNE, Júlia Ferreira, the head of political and electoral affairs of MPLA, João Martins had already rallied the national and international media to claim victory by a landslide. What numbers he put out were the very same ones read out later by CNE’s spokesperson.

It does not seem to matter anymore because the international media, whose opinion or verdict is, for better or worse, often important to lend credibility to elections in places like Angola, had already concluded even before a single vote was cast, that the MPLA would win comfortably. Whether that win would be procured by fair or foul means was of no moment to them. The only thing they seemed interested in was to know a little bit more about Dos Santos’s sucessor – General João Lourenço.

A number of international observers, particularly Portuguese politicians, predictably praised the elections as “perfect”.

What now? As a critical Angolan citizen it is my duty to question the whole process. There is already an international narrative established by the international media and political pundits about the comfortable win of MPLA.

Why couldn’t the National Electoral Commission abide by the law, and have the votes tallied? In the past three elections (1992, 2008, 2012), there was no shame in stuffing ballots, and other tricks in the book to ensure predetermined “landslide victories”. But at least the Electoral Law was observed as far the tallying of the results.

This time there was a major difference.

The opposition organized itself to undertake parallel tallying of the votes. They had battled hard for the electoral law to be observed as far as the monitoring of the polling stations and access of the oficial and signed copies of local results.

Also, the broader use of smartphones helped. Within minutes copies of the certified polling station results were being disseminated in the social media, as citizens took a keen interest in monitoring the elections.

By law, the results of each polling station must be posted locally for the public to see, immediately after they have been certified by the local members of the Electoral Commision and agents of the competing political parties.

As the evening progressed on August 23, it became clear from the certified results at polling stations across the country that the ruling MPLA would not coast comfortably to victory. In fact, it was well on the way to losing in the capital Luanda. That was when the oficial tallying of the votes at local, provincial and national levels was suspended.

Ordinary Angolans have long been fed up with the kleptocratic regime of the MPLA and the accompanying neglect by the government of its social responsibilities, a severe economic crisis, widespread joblessness, and decades of misrule and sheer incompetence.

What happened in these elections is that the Angolan people came to understand the value of the secrecy of the vote. MPLA could no longer control the hearts and minds of people through fear mongering, outright repression and corruption.

Yet, MPLA has proven to be a master manipulator of the international media by getting it to buy into its narratives that serve to perpetuate and legitimize its power. This time it has managed yet again to procure international acceptance of the outright stealing of elections in the most crude and unbelievable manner: No tallying of the results.

Angolan voters have been robbed. These elections have cost over half a billion dollars. Recently, the National Electoral Commission received an additional US $250 million from the presidency, from a slush fund, according to some sources. What for?

For the international community it might be just business as usual with the Angolan regime. All that conversation about democracy and rule of law has never been meant sincerely. The Southern Africa Development Community Observation Mission has already declared the Angolan elections free and fair.

Angolans must learn how to overcome the fractures of its social fabric to band together in ending this state of affairs and this regime of bandits.