Angola’s President Joao Lourenco won a second five-year term on Monday after his MPLA party emerged victorious with a thin majority in last week’s closely fought election, extending its decades-long rule in the oil-rich country.
He promised to be the “president of all Angolans” and to open dialogue after the electoral commission announced the results, which saw the opposition make large gains while his party won with a slim majority.
“This is a victory for Angola and Angolans,” Lourenco, 68, said in his inaugural address shortly after the unveiling of the result of the August 24 ballot.
“This vote was a vote of confidence, which gives us the immense responsibility of promoting dialogue and social consultation.”
The National Electoral Commission (CNE) reported the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola won 51.17 percent of the ballots against 43.95 percent for the main challenger, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
Despite the victory, the outcome — the tightest in Angola’s history — marked a record low for the MPLA and might yet end up in court after UNITA had earlier rejected provisional results.
Four members of the 16-strong electoral commission did not sign off on the final tally, poll officials said.
The MPLA has traditionally wielded control over the electoral process and opposition and civic groups had raised fears of voter tampering.
UNITA leader Adalberto Costa Junior, 60, last week called for an international panel to review the count.
International observers raised concerns over the electoral roll and biased reporting by state-owned television, but most said voting was peaceful and well organised.
The MPLA, a former Marxist liberation movement, has ruled Angola for nearly half a century since independence from Portugal in 1975.
But it has seen a steady decline in support over recent elections.
While it romped to victory with 71.84 percent in 2012, it dropped to 61 percent in 2017.
UNITA scored 26.67 percent in 2017 elections and contested the official count.
There was no celebration and honking of horns as in previous elections on the streets of Luanda.
“I (am) dissatisfied because it was not the results that the people expected,” said Luanda resident Fernandes Domingos, 38.
Street vendor Rebecca Moyeta echoed the sentiments, saying: “I’m very upset with this (MPLA) party… We want a change.”
Alex Vines, of the UK-based think tank Chatham House, said that while UNITA was likely to challenge the count, the former rebel movement had reasons to be happy.
“It’s an amazing result for UNITA when you think that 20 years ago, they were defeated on the battlefield,” he said.
“Politics will have to change in Angola now. There’s going to have to be the politics of compromise,” he added.
The results gave the MPLA 124 of the 220 parliamentary seats up for grabs while UNITA won 90.
Turnout was low, with only about 45 percent of those registered casting their ballots, which pointed to a growing disillusionment with politics, said Vines.
The United States on Monday called on all parties “to express themselves peacefully and to resolve any grievances in accordance with applicable legal processes”.
The European Union encouraged “an open, constructive and inclusive dialogue” between the government, opposition and civil society, and urged the “election authorities to make every possible efforts to respond to them in a fair and transparent manner”.
The latest election has been overshadowed by a struggling economy, inflation, poverty, drought and the death of Lourenco’s predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Dos Santos was buried in Luanda at a solemn funeral on Sunday.
The opposition has proved popular in urban areas, winning in the capital Luanda and among youth disaffected with the ruling party.
Angola is Africa’s second largest crude producer, but the oil bonanza has been accompanied by corruption and nepotism.
Lourenco, a former general educated in the Soviet Union, is credited with far-reaching reforms since taking power, including boosting financial transparency, tackling graft and attracting foreign investors.
But critics say his anti-graft crusade has been one-sided and aimed at settling political scores, targeting children and cronies of dos Santos.
His economic reforms have also so far failed to translate into better living conditions for most Angolans, critics say.
“With this vote of confidence, it is time to continue the reforms necessary to make Angola a more prosperous and more developed country,” Lourenco said, promising to pay particular attention “to the expectations of young people”.