Angola Elections 2022: Tense Times as UNITA Rejects Election Results

After an uneasy night in several Angolan cities, the funeral ceremonies for former President José Eduardo dos Santos began on Saturday in the presence of foreign heads of state. A military guard of honour accompanied the flag-draped coffin, as the cortege proceeded from the Dos Santos mansion in the upper-class neighbourhood of Miramar, and along the sweep of the bay to the Square of the Republic, led by a group of women chorusing “Angola weeps for Zedu”.

The outgoing MPLA President, João Lourenço did not attend but is expected to be at the formal funeral ceremony on Sunday when his predecessor’s remains will be placed inside a mausoleum within metres of the rocket-shaped monument to Angola’s first President Agostinho Neto. Lourenço who expected to be re-elected comfortably after the August 24 poll, is apparently now facing a divided party and nation, many of whom accuse the MPLA of resorting to dirty tricks and manipulating the numbers in order to keep its grip on power.

Angola’s fifth multi-party election since Independence was the most closely fought contest to date. But provisional results reported by the National Electoral Commission (the CNE), giving 51%, and therefore victory, to the ruling MPLA, have been rejected by UNITA, the main opposition party. On Friday evening, after reports of unsuccessful talks between mediators for the two main parties, UNITA demanded a recount in the presence of impartial, international observers.

UNITA says that its figures show it won more votes than the CNE announced and that fewer seats should have been awarded to the MPLA, which has ruled Angola for nearly half a century. At one point UNITA had suggested its own parallel count (based on the copies of the final votes tallies given to its observers) showed a narrow win for the MPLA. Apparently, its leaders now feel that they may have a chance of achieving an historic turnaround.

These developments, along with an unprecedented social media campaign that seemed destined to incite violence, led to UNITA supporters taking to the streets of several Angolan cities overnight. Video recordings shared widely on social media showed youth in provincial centres such as Cabinda shouting slogans of support for UNITA leader Adalberto Costa Júnior, such as “Adalberto, amigo, o povo está contigo” [“Adalberto, friend, the people are with you”]. The authorities responded with a show of force, flooding the streets with riot police (the Rapid Intervention Police, PIR known as the ‘ninjas’.) Amid calls for calm, remarks at the funeral ceremony on Saturday by Francisco Furtado, Minister of State at the Office of the President’s Civil Bureau, noted that the national police and security forces were deployed and ready to control any disturbances.

The CNE had announced that, with 97% of all votes counted, the MPLA had won 51% and UNITA had won 44%. It also revealed UNITA had thrashed the MPLA in its traditional heartland of Luanda, by 63% to 31% of the vote. UNITA had instructed all its observers and supporters to take note of the agreed final tallies – the Actas – at each of the polling stations and then conducted a parallel count of its own, and that – it said – showed major discrepancies.

Controversy has dogged the CNE throughout this election process, and even beforehand, starting with the appointment of the organization’s president. Judges were invited to compete for the position, with the final selection being made by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Joel Leonardo – a presidential appointee – chose Manuel Pereira da Silva, an MPLA insider accused of incompetence when serving as the head of the provincial electoral commission in Luanda.

This in itself was alarming and led a fellow supreme court judge, Agostinho Santos, to challenge the appointment. His challenge was rejected but questions about the integrity and competence of Manuel Pereira da Silva’s appointment to lead the CNE raised concerns about the integrity and competence of the organization itself.

CNE staffers assert that it would have been impossible for them to commit any fraud with respect to the tallies submitted from each polling station. They said as soon as the final tally was signed off it would be scanned and sent to the CNE headquarters. Any attempt to modify this would just be rejected by their computers.

IT experts say this confidence was misplaced. They say there are any number of freely available applications, such as Capcut and Superscan, that can easily change images and numbers and that when each polling station sends a scan to the CNE, any programme that converts image to text or text to image can alter numbers written on a scanned page.

Even if the CNE were impregnable and the numbers submitted check out, the fundamental issue is that it makes no sense for UNITA to claim fraud when it won an astonishing 66% of the vote in Luanda, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the ruling party in the Angolan capital. Does this defy logic? It is highly likely that, notwithstanding some irregularities, the results announced by the CNE, once confirmed and made official, will fairly represent how the nation voted in this election: a severe rebuff to the MPLA for its failure to deliver prosperity and a demand for change, while at the same time giving them one final chance to come good. The MPLA has been given notice – if they fail again – UNITA will have victory delivered on a plate in 2027.

Amid all the noise and excitement, it is noteworthy that some public figures and sectors of the media are distorting or exaggerating incidents and thereby are themselves contributing to even greater instability. Angola does not itself have an independent media but international observers and analysts, and pro-UNITA apologists on social media, are delivering misinformation and circulating video footage out of context to create a picture of unrest that does not correspond to what witnesses are seeing on the ground. This then escalates the tension, spreading the false idea that rejection of the election result is leading to widespread disturbances. The reality is that this election was highly competitive and in spite of all the additional advantages enjoyed by the governing party, the Angolan electorate spoke up and spoke loudly that they will no longer tolerate incompetence and corruption. In fact, Angolan voters set a calm and purposeful example of democratic behaviour. If only their politicians could show the same professionalism.