Angola: President Dos Santos Names Successor As Political Tensions Rise

Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

14 September 2011



This morning ACPP welcomed guests from Angola to discuss the current developments in their country. The discussion centred on a number of issues, among them the announcement earlier this month by Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos that he had selected Manuel Vicente, head of the country's national oil company Sonangol, to be his successor.

The discussion also touched on the power dynamics within the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola (MPLA) party in the context of the new constitution that was adopted in February 2010. The constitution secured the president's grip on power through the establishment of a presidential-parliamentary system whereby the president will not be elected by popular vote, but that the president will instead be determined by the head of the party that wins the most seats in parliament. In this context, our discussion sought to understand the implications the current political scenario has on peace and security in Angola.

The security situation in Angola ahead of the 2012 general elections remains precarious, as demonstrated by recent protests by disenfranchised youths calling on the government to address their plight. According to reports, the police descended heavily on the protesters by using violence, arresting 24 youths in the process. The army and police have generally prevented Angolans from organising and engaging in mass rallies, largely through the use of violence. As elections draw closer, the role of the army and police will remain in the spotlight as the country's political tensions continue to simmer.

The impending elections will further test the country's commitment towards respecting democratic ideals.

It appears unlikely that the country will hold free and fair elections.

Given the government bias of existing electoral structures, opposition parties believe elections will not be fair. Although the constitution provides for the independence of the electoral body, the National Elections Committee (CNE), opposition parties have argued that the role of the government in appointing members of the CNE in fact defeats just the purpose. They have further decried the provision in new constitution that abolished a direct presidential ballot.

The new constitution stipulates that "the person that heads up the list of the party that gains the most votes in the National Assembly proportional representation election will automatically become president" (See EISA, 14 September). Essentially, this provision makes it difficult for opposition parties to contest elections as an alliance. Political parties that are willing to form a coalition will have to form one umbrella party with one leader and if that coalition wins the election, they will be forced to remain as a unit.

Questions were also raised as to how the president has managed to control power despite allegations of dissatisfaction, both from within the party and from the general population. One key contributing factor to this dynamic is the dominance of the executive over the other branches of government, as demonstrated by several articles in the constitution that empowers the president to appoint the judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court as well as the Court Audit. (See EISA, 14 September).

The president's links with Sonangol has been identified as one of the means through which he has managed to keep the MPLA and the government in check by expanding his system of patronage, rewarding loyal politicians, family members and the military. Sonangol is at the epicentre of political power and high-level corruption, using oil revenues to uphold the patronage networks.

Dos Santos' selection of Vicente has been viewed by several observers as a way of officially relinquishing power, while still retaining significant control as head of the MPLA. For, while Vicente enjoys international credibility, he lacks a political or social support base back home. The family ties linking Vicente to dos Santos is viewed as another reason for the president's choice. Vicente has already indicated that he would be stepping down as chief executive of Sonangol, the clearest sign to date that he could be preparing to focus on politics full-time.

Whatever the motivation for the recent decisions taken by the President, Angola's political future remains unclear as dos Santos keeps his cards close to his chest, as the various factions within the MPLA wrangle for the upper hand.


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