Challenging Angola’s Election Result

The official result of the Angolan elections gave victory to the MPLA with 51.17% of the total votes cast; UNITA coming second with 43.95%. UNITA reacted to the announcement by issuing a public statement that, until judgement is forthcoming in the legal challenges it submitted, the party would not accept the results given by the National Electoral Commission (the CNE) and would petition the Constitutional Court to freeze the CNE result pending judgement. UNITA’s statement makes three laudable points.

First: the party has chosen to follow legal and institutional procedures to press its case, in line with the stance of the United States and European Union, who praised the peaceful conduct of the elections and urged that any dispute be settled through due judicial process. The UNITA leadership has thus rejected calls by ‘Trump style’ militants in the party who wanted to mobilize their supporters to march on parliament and other institutions to overturn the official election result. Direct action could have led to an unforeseen escalation of violence and anarchy.

If UNITA can prove fraud, this would be an historic moment, an unprecedented paradigm, revealing the MPLA to be the most incompetent election-rigger in African history, organizing a disastrous defeat in the capital, Luanda, and almost certainly delivering the opposition party an easy victory next time around, in 2027.

Second, UNITA affirms that the party will recognize the election result once the respective challenges it submitted have been adjudicated. This puts the onus on the CNE to act quickly and openly to investigate the disputed tallies, which may or may not impact the overall result. Their findings may result in only marginal changes in the allocation of seats in the National Assembly, Angola’s parliament.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, UNITA has called for the result to be frozen while what might be called its “principal challenge” is adjudged. The basis of this “principal challenge” has not been revealed and so we cannot know what impact it might have on the final result.

Angola’s General Election Law, the Lei Orgânica das Eleições Gerais (LOEG), has provision for disputes of this kind. Article 136 applies to the tally, the Acta, specifying how the official result tally is determined, and how any doubts or challenges should be handled. Article 153 and those that follow, govern how to challenge irregularities found during the vote, individual counts, and the final total. It states that these challenges must be made at the time the irregularities are seen. This may preclude a general challenge which can only be admitted if proper challenges to each individual irregularity were made opportunely.

The challenge must be able to show relevant and legally-admissible evidence, such as a photocopy of the original tally from each mesa (voting area) of the polling station at which the irregularity in question occurred (Article 154). The burden of proof falls on UNITA which must be able to supply documentary evidence to support its allegations. Any challenge must first be put to the CNE for examination and determination and only after the CNE has presented its findings can there be an appeal to the Constitutional Court (see Articles 155, 156, 157) which has the power to suspend the process (Article 158). This means the law does not provide for the result to be frozen at this stage.

The first complaint must be registered at the polling station where the disputed record of the tally was produced. Secondly, the complainant must submit each specific dispute to the CNE. Only then, as a third step, can UNITA appeal to the Constitutional Court. As in any dispute the petitioner must supply adequate and legally-admissible proofs to have any chance of success.

Until and unless the claim reaches that third stage, when an appeal is lodged with the Constitutional Court, the election result – as announced – remains in force. The Constitutional Court’s role is to determine the validity of the CNE’s verdict on each of UNITA’s challenges. At this stage, it can only freeze the CNE verdict. Until the Constitutional Court delivers its judgement on the CNE verdict, the election result stands. Only if the Constitutional Court finds that the CNE verdict is flawed, can it order a recount.

To sum up: UNITA has challenged the result with the CNE which may, after deliberation, reject its challenge. UNITA would then appeal to the Constitutional Court to judge the CNE’s decision to reject UNITA’s claim. During this process only the CNE’s decision regarding the challenge is suspended, not the election result. However, should the Constitutional Court reject the CNE’s verdict on the UNITA challenge, then the Court has the power to suspend or annul the official result and order a recount. It is clearly of the utmost importance that this process be conducted with maximum efficiency and speed because it cannot over-run the legally-established deadline by which the new government must be sworn in. The law on elections (Art. 157) stipulates that any appeal must be submitted to the Constitutional Court within 72 hours of the National Electoral Commission’s decision on any challenge and the Constitutional Court then only has 72 hours to reach a decision (Art. 160), with a further 72 hours for a counter-claim. This dispute over the count totals ends with the Constitutional Court – its decision is final.