The continent’s third longest-serving president after Cameroon’s Paul Biya (since 1975) and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (August 1979), Dos Santos has ruled Angola since September 1979.
Dos Santos announced late last year he would not stand for re-election when the resource-rich southern African country goes to the polls in August. The top candidate of the winning party in the legislature automatically becomes president.
More than nine million voters, over 40% of the population, are registered. Dos Santos’ deputy, Joao Lourenco (63), who is also the country’s minister of defence, will contest on the platform of the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, literally translated in English as Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
“It is almost impossible to imagine what the country looks like without him at the helm,” stated Simon Allison, consultant at the Institute for Security Studies.
In power since independence in 1975, when Agostinho Neto (born 1922, died 1979) became president, the MPLA is favoured to retain power. Its prospects are strengthened by a weakened and fragmented opposition, incapacitated by the ruling party’s socialistic approach of a one-party state system.
Out of the more than 20 opposition political parties, whose majority only appear during municipal elections and targeted legislative positions before ceasing operations, the notable and most formidable opposition parties are the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA).
Unita joined a government of national unity following the death of their combative, militaristic leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002. His death in battle with government-backed troops along the river banks in the province of Moxico, his birthplace, brought to end over two-and-a-half decades of civil war. More than 500 000 civilians were killed during one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars.
The upcoming elections, the fourth since a multi-party system in 1992, are the most anticipated in years with the absence of Dos Santos, who turns 75 during the polls, the highlight.
Businessman Paulo Marques, from the second largest city of Huambo, predicted a closely-fought affair. “If there is no political violence, intimidation, and harassment of opposition parties’ activists, I project a close contest this time around,” Marques said.
The MPLA has been dominant in recent elections with 53.74% of the vote to Unita’s 34.1%. The last poll in 2012 saw power retained at 71.85%, to Unita’s 18.67%.
“People need change,” argued Marques. “Angolans no longer wish to be led by a political party whose image is littered with corruption,” said Marques in an interview.
Southern Africa’s biggest country by size and the second-biggest economy after South Africa, Angola has vast oil and gas resources and a mining industry brimming with diamonds, gold and uranium, among others.
Political analyst, Dominique Jordao, said “No single leader from Unita presently dining with the MPLA would ever wish to see their wealth and lavish life disturbed. The politics of today in Angola is about bringing food to the table. As long as those that benefit and their families are safe, there will be no strong opposition to the status quo.”
The Sunday Independent