Angolan Elections 2022: Party Manifestos Silent on Judicial Reform
Ahead of Angola’s presidential and parliamentary elections this month, the United States Senate has taken the unusual step of passing a resolution calling for the electoral process to be conducted fairly, peacefully and transparently. Angolans might feel affronted by this: doesn’t their Constitution, along with numerous laws and regulations, already guarantee this?
The Senate Resolution says: “Angola is classified as ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House due to the ruling MPLA’s abuse of state institutions to control political processes and limit free expression”. It is critical of state control over the mass media and bureaucratic interference in opposition parties, and demands all parties and candidates be allowed to campaign without undue restriction, harassment or intimidation.
For this election to be credible, the US Senate urges the Angolan government to take a number of measures, including making electoral rolls public and allowing the European Union to send election monitors. In effect, the Americans have documented widespread concerns that Angola pays lip service to democracy while continuing to tilt the scales in favour of the ruling MPLA party.
In one way or another, the MPLA can access resources denied to any other political party. As the party of government, it can set rules and put people in place that may give the MPLA an advantage over the others. And in the event of any dispute over the conduct of the electoral process, including any challenge to the announced result, the MPLA can count on a roster of judges who owe their positions to the party that has ruled Angola since Independence in 1975.
It’s been two decades since the end of the civil war, yet most Angolans have yet to see any peace dividend. Where is the promised infrastructure and economic development for the far-flung provinces? Amid growing frustration and discontent many experts believe this election could see popular support for the MPLA begin to ebb and any attempt to rig the election could then spark unrest.
Diverse countries have different interpretations of democracy and the mere existence of laws, or the holding of periodic elections, may not necessarily guarantee fairness. Although this is the fifth multiparty election since 1992, Angola’s government and institutions have not always upheld democratic values, such as freedom of the press, the freedom to organise and register political parties and without an independent and impartial judiciary, there can be no confidence that the government can be held to account for any malpractice.
It’s strange then that none of the parties contesting this election has included in their manifesto any mention of judicial reform. Angola’s recent history has shown that the Justice system is in urgent need of reform, starting with a root-and-branch review of the judiciary. Far too many serving judges, especially at the most senior levels, have shown themselves to be partisan and incapable of giving independent and impartial judgement. Why else would the Attorney General of the Republic have determined to prosecute certain individuals but not others, regardless of overwhelming evidence?
If Angola wishes its political system to be respected across the globe, it is not enough to tackle economic questions – it must take concrete action to guarantee the separation and independence of the legislative, administrative and judicial estates.
The 58-page MPLA manifesto proclaims its overall strategy as ‘to consolidate peace and a democratic state of law and continue to reform the state, justice system, public administration, social communication, freedom of expression, and civil society’. This is the one and only time that the word “Justice” appears and there is no mention of how they might intend to reform it. This is extraordinary given the emphasis placed by the incumbent government on the fight against corruption. As we have seen, the judicial system was inadequate and unprepared to tackle this titanic task, leading to criticisms that its members excused some while pursuing a politically motivated vendetta against others.
The Angolan legal system has been dysfunctional and subordinate to realpolitik from the start. Add to this the inexperience, or lack of adequate training, of judges and it is hardly surprising there was no agreed procedure or template for handling complex financial crimes. These circumstances gave rise to an unsystematic and tardy case by case treatment.
As for the main opposition party, UNITA, mentions of judicial reform embrace lofty ideals such as ‘a national plan for judicial infrastructure’ to deliver ‘more straightforward, accessible and speedy justice”. However, it too fails to detail any specific measures as to how to improve the system or introduce technological innovation.
The absence of concrete plans to reform the judicial system has become a bone of contention in Angola in recent years. The country is still waiting for the most corrupt offenders to be brought to justice, men such as Manuel Vicente, the former Sonangol President elevated to Deputy President of Angola during the Dos Santos Administration. His post guaranteed him immunity from prosecution for a period of five years and there is considerable expectation as to what may happen when that period ends in September.
Maka Angola has consulted legal experts with a view to offering the government and opposition parties some ideas for judicial reform: e.g.,
- REFORMAT LAW SCHOOL ENTRY AND CURRICULUM: to admit only those with the best grades as law students and offer them a broader curriculum, setting aside the post-colonial Portuguese paradigm to embrace the best practice of respected African jurisdictions such as Botswana and Namibia to offer up-to-date modules on criminology, economic and financial crimes.
- REVISE EXISTING LEGISLATION TO SIMPLIFY DUE PROCESS: to guarantee basic human rights for all parties and eliminate unhelpful bureaucracy or formalities which slow down the judicial process.
- INTRODUCE THE PLEA BARGAIN: so major cases can be resolved quickly and fairly.
- REFORM THE APPEALS PROCESS: to ensure that the Court of Appeal (Tribunal da Relação) is the proper forum for appeals against judgements handed down by lower courts, ensuring the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court hear only those cases that would set a precedent or would require interpretation or redefinition of jurisprudence. This would end the use of the Supreme Court as a court of first instance for privileged persons.
- LIAISE WITH THE LEGAL BODY REPRESENTING ATTORNEYS TO CREATE A JUDICIAL BODY TO PROTECT DUE PROCESS: to create a team of public defenders to represent defendants without the resources to hire their own defence attorneys, to inspect prison conditions, and ensure the release of anyone held beyond the legal detention limit.
- CREATE A JUDICIAL PAY SCALE: to ensure judges are remunerated according to their qualifications, experience and status and end the system of unregulated perquisites and benefits.
- BRING THE CIVIL CODE UP TO DATE: by conducting a systematic review.
- CREATE AN INDEPENDENT COURT ADMINISTRATION SYSTEM: to supply, monitor and maintain the necessary basic infrastructure for the courts to function, such as adequate furniture, functional washrooms, and all the necessary basic materials such as audio-visual recording equipment, stenographic equipment, paper, printers and ink supplies.
- REQUIRE ALL PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS TO RECEIVE PARLIAMENTARY CONFIRMATION: to emulate good practice elsewhere, as in the USA, by which presidential nominations for high-ranking administrative appointments are subject to oversight before their confirmation.
- REVISE THE CONSTITUTION OF THE MAGISTRATURE SUPREME COUNCIL: to introduce independent oversight.