Angolan elections are set to take place on 23 August 2017. It can be expected that there may be pockets of politically related violence in the days leading up to elections, although opposition parties in general are not expected to make any material indents on the current political landscape and ruling party.
On 21 July 2017, parliament passed a law that would limit the powers of future presidents of Angola in matters of security and defence. However, the law will only apply to successors of President Dos Santos, who has enjoyed control of Angola’s military and security institutions since taking power in 1979.
The new bill is aimed at limiting circumstances under which powerful officials can be removed, including possibilities such as criminal behaviour and old age. This implies that the heads of the army and police and intelligence services will be protected in their posts for eight years, limiting the president’s power to remove them.
The policy has sparked controversy in Angola with the opposition accusing outgoing President Dos Santos of seeking to retain control of the military after he leaves office. Andre Mendes de Carvalho, a lawyer from Broad Convergence for Angola’s Salvation – Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), said it “means that the president will not be able to remove them from their posts.” He added that a law such as this should not be passed only weeks before a president’s term limit ends, as it will prevent the future president from “working effectively”.
Angola’s parliamentary elections will be held on 23 August 2017. Following an amendment to the constitution in 2010, Angolans no longer choose their head of state in a presidential election. The lead candidate of the party that polls the most votes in the parliamentary elections automatically becomes the head of state. It is widely expected that the candidate of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), João Lourenço, current Minister of Defence and Dos Santos’s designated successor, will become the new president following the August 2017 elections.
Prior to Lourenço’s selection as designated presidential candidate, speculation was rife with many expecting a member of the Dos Santos dynasty, including his son, José Filomeno dos Santos, who heads the country’s US$5 billion sovereign wealth fund, a position bestowed on him by his father. Two other perceived potential candidates were Dos Santos’ daughter, Isabel dos Santos, who runs state-owned oil company Sonangol; and, the Deputy President, Manuel Vicente, who has close ties to the Dos Santos family.
However, Lourenço remains the most likely choice and Dos Santos is expected to continue to control the military and security establishments via him, albeit from behind the scenes. The choice of Lourenço shows a desire for continuity, as numerous generals have wielded political influence over Angola in the past which is typical of the Dos Santos style of government. Lourenço is also one of the few Angolan generals and politicians who is free of suspected involvement in major corruption scandals. The opposition contends that effectively power in Angolan politics will, therefore, remain in Dos Santos’ hands through Lourenço.
In late July 2017, the European Union (EU) cancelled plans to observe elections in Angola after the government failed to agree to certain conditions, including access to all parts of the country during the poll. The EU is expected to send a smaller team of experts to assess the elections on 23 August 2017, with the team likely to consist of no more than five people. The team will also not be able to provide an in-depth account of the electoral process.
The decision not to allow the EU to ‘freely’ observe elections will strengthen the perception that elections are unlikely to be free, fair and transparent, a notion which will be supported by opposition parties participating in elections. It could also stir political tension to the level of politically related violence surfacing and increasing in the week leading up to, as well as on the day of elections. Security forces are expected to deal with such violence with a heavy hand, and it is advised that expatriates working in Angola be cautious of the fact that they could be caught up in pockets of violence and should, therefore, avoid any gatherings in Luanda and other locations.
More recently, on 16 August 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that the 23 August elections will take place amid severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, and “limited access to information due to government repression and censorship in state media and in private media outlets controlled by ruling party officials.”
This came as the Ministry of the Interior said street protests planned by activists were a security risk and could “clash with activities of political parties.” The Ministry accordingly urged provincial governments to ban rallies and demonstrations by organisations not competing in the 23 August elections after it reportedly received information that some such groups planned to stage street actions in the electoral period.
In this context the possibility of some protest activity and associated political violence over the next few days should not be excluded in Luanda and other city centres.