Registering voters ahead of Angola’s 2008 elections. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State (public domain)
Freedom House Rating
Due in 2020 (postponed)
August 2022 (due)
August 23, 2017
Angola is due to hold its first-ever local elections in 2020. However, the elections have already been delayed multiple times (most recently in September 2020), and no date has been set. Meanwhile, COVID-19 provides an excuse for additional delays. In short, it is unclear when – or whether – the local elections will actually happen.
Angola has never held free or fair elections. The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a former armed group, has ruled Angola since 1976, when the country became independent from Portugal.
For 38 years, the MPLA’s José Eduardo Dos Santos ruled Angola with an iron fist, and moreover, his regime engaged in rampant corruption. Dos Santos became president in 1979 following the death of MPLA founder António Agostinho. In 2017, he stepped down, and his designated successor, defense minister João Lourenço (known to Angolans as “JLo”), subsequently won the presidency following the MPLA’s win. The 2017 elections saw widespread intimidation of the opposition, in addition to reports of electoral fraud.
Nonetheless, MPLA’s vote share has been steadily decreasing with each successive election: it received 81 percent of the vote in 2008, 72 percent in 2012, and 61 percent in 2017.
Since taking power, Lourenço has enacted some reforms and sought to curtail the country’s pervasive corruption. In that vein, he has compared himself to Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong’s successor, who began China’s process of reform and opening but was no democrat. Likewise, many analysts believe that Lourenço’s reasons for enacting reforms have more to do with remaining in power than any genuine commitment to opening up Angola’s political space.
From independence until 1992, the MPLA was the only political party, but in 1992, following talks between the government and UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, Angola held its first multi-party elections, which the MPLA won. Violence surrounded the process. Angola did not hold another election until 2008 – the first elections since the end of the civil war. The MPLA again won the elections (which were neither free nor fair).
Angola’s first-ever local elections have already been delayed multiple times and no date has been set. The government announced yet another indefinite delay in September 2020. Some believe that the reason has to do with concerns about the opposition making gains.
Nonetheless, the opposition is urging the government to schedule the elections before the end of the year.
Angola is due to hold its next national elections in 2022. In those elections, voters will elect all 220 members of the unicameral National Assembly by closed party list. Because Angola’s 2010 constitution abolished direct elections for president, the leader of the party with the most votes in the legislative elections automatically becomes president.
Lourenço is eligible for a second and final term. To combat his party’s declining popularity, Lourenço has touted an anti-corruption campaign, even going after members of the Dos Santos family, who had previously been untouchable.
Both the MPLA and the main opposition party, UNITA, grew out of armed groups that fought together in the Angolan War of Independence from 1961 to 1974, and against one another in the Angolan Civil War from 1975 to 2002. The war was brutal, and became a proxy battle in the Cold War, with the Soviet Union backing the nominally-Marxist MPLA and the United States and South Africa backing UNITA.
Angola is one of the biggest oil producers in Africa; indeed, after the civil war, the country saw an oil-fueled boom (although the boom failed to lift most Angolans out of poverty). However, COVID-19 has stalled oil exploration.
Simon Hossi and Dércio Tsandzana, Global Voices (November 6, 2020 – in Portuguese): Police violently repress Angolan demonstration for municipal elections
Manuel Luamba, DW (November 6, 2020 – in Portuguese): João Lourenço’s governance increasingly contested in Angola
AFP (November 2, 2020): Angola anti-govt protesters freed after week in jail
AFP (October 29, 2020): Angola activists claim 387 missing after anti-govt protest
Joāo Marcos, VOA (October 5, 2020 – in Portuguese): UNITA challenges João Lourenço to schedule municipal elections for 2021 at the opening of the legislative year
Candido Mendes, Bloomberg (September 9, 2020): Angola Postpones Local Election After Virus Delays Legislation
Albano Agostinho Troco, The Conversation (August 24, 2020): Why COVID-19 can’t be blamed for Angola’s failure to have local governance
Paula Cristina Roque, Institute for Security Studies (June 7, 2020): Angola’s new president: reforming to survive
Austin Doctor, Washington Post (January 16, 2020): Is Angola’s anti-corruption campaign a real effort — or just for show?
Alex Vines, World Politics Review (October 16, 2018): How Different Is the ‘New Angola’ Under Lourenco?
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Updated November 14, 2020