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Angola: Presidential elections postponed?

After the 2008 parliamentary elections, the first time in 16 years that Angola went to the polls, the Angolan government proposed that the presidential elections be held in 2009. Earlier this year, however, President José Eduardo dos Santos declared that the approval of a new constitution is this year  was the highest priority for the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola).

In his New Year's address [pt], Dos Santos also stated that his Party will propose, through its parliamentary members, the creation of an “ad hoc” committee in the National Assembly, which would be in charge of preparing the new draft constitution  and “promoting, whenever appropriate, a broad discussion [of the draft] before approval by the Parliament”. The President did not mention the future presidential election, and in so doing fueled rumors that the Angolans will not return to the polls in 2009, as they had expected. There has been a range of speculation on Angloan blogs and media about the reasons behind this.

Below is what Feliciano Cangue [pt], from Hukalilile (Don't Cry for Me Angola) blog, has to say about it:

“Se perguntarmos aos angolanos o ano da realização das eleições presidenciais em Angola, todos em uníssono, dirão: 2009. Puro engano! Conversa para o boi dormir ou só para acalmar os ânimos. Para não aumentar mais a frustração do leitor, quero dizer-lhe, que os donos do poder, se depois não mudarem de ideias, estão a preparar as eleições em Angola para 2010, só para que percamos as esperanças. Isso só é possível num país onde a democracia foi imposta, como pensam muitos. Por outro lado é isso que dá quando um governo (com pendor autoritário) tem a maioria absoluta na Assembleia Nacional. O MPLA não teria condições para fazer duas eleições em dois anos seguidos, porque teria que gastar muito dinheiro com essas campanhas”.

“If you ask the Angolan people in which year the presidential elections in Angola will be held, they will say in unison: 2009. [This is] just a sham! Hogwash, or just oil poured on troubled waters. So that the reader doesn't get more  frustrated, I tell you that, if the holders of power do not change their minds, they are preparing for the elections to be held in Angola in 2010, only so that we lose hope. This is only possible in a country where democracy was imposed, as many think. On the other hand, this is what happens when a government (with a penchant for authoritarianism) has an absolute majority in the National Assembly. The MPLA would not be able to hold two elections one year after another, because they would need to spend too much money on these campaigns.”

Regarding the creation of a new constitution that would ensure the next elected Angolan president will be from within the MPLA, Feliciano Cangas shares with his readers a thought that might have crossed the minds of many Angolans:

“O MPLA talvez priorize a que se escreva uma nova constituição ou se faça uma emenda constitucional, para se encontrar uma fórmula que facilite a eleição do presidente. Assim que conseguisse essa façanha, é muito provável que se indique o filho, a filha ou esposa como candidato à presidência. Assim se implantaria uma monarquia parlamentar e pronto!”

“In order to find a formula that facilitates the election of the president, the MPLA might prioritize that a new constitution is written, or that a constitutional amendment is made. Once this is achieved, it is very likely that a child, daughter or wife is nominated as candidate to run for president. A parliamentary monarchy is thus implemented and that's it! “

Wilson Dadá [pt] elaborates further on the above point. He says that the population is uncertain about the future plans of the president or the country's main party:

Nos primeiros palpites que debitamos este ano por estas bandas, referimos que o debate proposto por José Eduardo dos Santos sobre a eleição do Presidente da República veio introduzir no processo uma grande dose de incerteza, pois agora já ninguém sabe quais são os planos da principal força política deste país e muito menos do seu líder, que parece ter uma agenda muito própria no âmbito da estratégia mais geral do maioritário.
Por exemplo, os potenciais candidatos às presidenciais estão sem saber o que fazer, enquanto não for aprovada a nova Constituição, onde será definida a modalidade da eleição, que pode ser por via parlamentar ou por sufrágio directo e universal, de acordo com a sugestão implícita na proposta de debate.
Tudo agora está dependente das novas ideias que o MPLA vai introduzir no texto fundamental. Ao que parece, já não são as mesmas que defendia durante o anterior processo constituinte.

As the first few guesses we had here this year, we said that the debate proposed by José Eduardo dos Santos on the presidential election introduced a large dose of uncertainty, because now nobody knows what the plans of this country's main political force are, and much less their leader's, who seems to have his very own agenda when it comes to a more general majority strategy.
For instance, potential presidential candidates will not know what to do until the new constitution, setting out the type of election, is approved. Elections may happen through parliamentary vote or by direct universal suffrage, according to the suggestion implied in the proposed debate.
Everything now depends on the new ideas that the MPLA will introduce to the basic [constitutional] text. It seems that they no longer are the same as those they had advocated during the previous constitutional process.

In an article for the Africa21 magazine, Joâo Melo [pt] says that it is fundamental to know whether the population will elect a new president in 2009 or not. He believes there is no time for that:

Uma questão política particular é saber se as eleições presidenciais serão realizadas este ano. Estou inclinado a pensar que não. Com efeito, predomina, no momento, o ponto de vista segundo o qual as eleições devem ser efectuadas com a nova Constituição. Ora, o calendário constituinte definido pelo Parlamento aponta para a conclusão dos trabalhos, na melhor das hipóteses, no meio de Julho. Essa discussão poderá ser estendida por causa da definição do método eleitoral — directo ou indirecto — caso o MPLA tenha interesse em aprovar toda a Constituição por consenso. Por tudo isso, dificilmente as eleições poderão ter lugar até ao final do tempo seco, entre Agosto e Setembro.

A particular political issue is whether the presidential election will be held this year. I am inclined to think it will not. Indeed, at the moment, the mainstream view is that the election must be made with the new Constitution. However, the timetable set by the Parliament for constitutional reform plans for the work to be finished, at best, by mid-July. This discussion period could be extended because of the need to select an electoral method  – direct or indirect – if the MPLA is interested in adopting a Constitution decided on by consensus. Because of all this, it seems very unlikely that the elections can take place by the end of the dry season, from August through September.

Eugénio Costa Almeida [pt] points out yet another issue that might cause elections to be postponed to 2010. He mentions an article from a local newspaper, Novo Jornal, which states that the Angolan presidential elections should happen only after the African Cup of Nations. As the ANC will only take place in 2010, he says it is only necessary to make a simple calculation to realise that it will be delayed.

Como se sabe o CAN-2010, em princípio e como tem sido habitual em outros CAN além de haver também o Mundial na África do Sul, decorrerá, em Angola, entre Janeiro e Fevereiro de 2010 o que implicará, até por necessidade de reagrupar meios logísticos que as eleições não acontecerão antes de Abril ou Maio de 2010.

Mas se pensarmos que o Povo Angolano anda cada vez menos esquecido e se a nossa selecção não conseguir os seus objectivos mínimos, não será de admirar que o Poder sofrerá as necessárias e devidas consequências políticas e eleitorais.

As you know the ANC-2010 – in principle, and as has been customary for other ANCs, in addition to the World Cup happening in South Africa – will be held in Angola between January and February 2010 which will mean, because of the need to reorganize logistics, that the elections do not happen before April or May 2010.

But if we think that the Angolan people are less and less forgetful and if our team does not achieve its minimum targets, it will be no surprise that those in power suffer the necessary and appropriate political and electoral consequences.

During the launch of the MPLA's 2009 Internal Policy Agenda last week, the presidential elections were mentioned [pt] as one of the party's priorities – as well as the approval of the new Constitution – but no date has been set. Another priority for the party is the preparation of the MPLA's VI Ordinary Congress, already scheduled for December 2009.

Originally written in Portuguese, translation by Paula Góes.

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