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Angola: Pre-Election Media Coverage Undermines Political Process

Angola is preparing to go the polls this Friday, August 31, 2012. The atmosphere on the streets of Luanda is calm. At tables in cafés people talk excitedly about the approaching day. On weekend, in some parts of the city, hopes for the elections come to life with parties in people's yards with lots of music, food and drink, the true Angolan way. Both meetings promoted by the parties and private ones.

These will be the third general elections since independence, in 1975. The first, in 1992, resulted in the return to civil war, which only ended in 2002, and in September 2008, José Eduardo dos Santos, in power for 33 years with the historic MPLA (Movimento Popular da Libertação de Angola – Popular Liberation Movement of Angola), was elected with over 80% of the vote. Five parties are running for office and 4 coalitions that will occupy the 220 seats in the National Assembly. The head of the list of the party or coalition winning the most of Angola's roughly 10 million votes will be the next head of state.

Photo by Jose Manuel Lima da Silva around the elections of September 5, 2008. Copyright Demotix

Photo by Jose Manuel Lima da Silva around the elections of September 5, 2008. Copyright Demotix

While waiting for the date, Angolans make a point of putting up party flags on their houses and cars. The photos of candidates are seen on walls and the media has given great coverage to the day hoping it will be fair and imbued with the spirt of peace.

All the while, numerous have been the criticisms of the underhanded coverage by the media of the electoral campaign, as reported by Human Rights Watch.

On Hukalilile [pt], mention is made to the fact that MPLA control the media:

Uma das coisas que me assusta é ver como a imprensa pública faz a propaganda sem escrúpulo em favor do partido no poder. A Comissão Nacional Eleitoral , órgão responsável pelo processo eleitoral não se manifesta sobre o assunto, como se isso fosse normal. (…) Uma outra situação meio embaraçosa são os comentaristas políticos que aparecem na televisão pública e na Rádio Nacional de Angola que não mantém a equidistância. Em seus comentários são muito ásperos contra os partidos da oposição. Ou seja, o MPLA para além do horário de propaganda política possui mais outros horários extras (serviços noticiosos ou em outros programas , além da transmissão “ao vivo” de programas de carácter partidário).

One of the things that scares me is how the public press makes unscrupulous propaganda in favor of the party in power. The National Electoral Commission, institution responsible for the electoral process makes no comment on the issue, as though this was normal. (…) Another sort of embarrassing situation are the political commentators that appear on public television and Angola National Radio that do not maintain any balance. In their comments they are very rough on the opposition parties. That is, the MPLA beyond the schedule of political propaganda, has extra time (news broadcasts or in other programs, beyond the “live” transmission of programs of interest to the Party.)

Jurist Fernando Macedo, on the blog Central 7311 [pt] hit the nail on the head:

"- Dad, do we have freedom of expression in Angola? - Here on Facebook, yes. But in RNA, TPA and JA (Angolan mainstream media), only MPLA is free." Cartoon by Projecto Kissonde on Facebook (used with permission)

“- Dad, do we have freedom of expression in Angola? – Here on Facebook, yes. But in RNA, TPA and JA (Angolan mainstream media), only MPLA is free.” Cartoon by Projecto Kissonde on Facebook (used with permission)

Na minha opinião, as eleições que estão em curso são eleições autoritárias, porque direitos fundamentais continuam a ser violados. Por exemplo, o direito de não sofrer violência física nem ser perseguido por terceiros por causa das nossas opiniões; direito de informar, de ser informado e de se informar; direito a não ser privado da liberdade de forma ilegal; direito de denúncia baseada em factos verdadeiros contra actos de agentes dos poderes públicos; direito à informação objectiva e verdadeira e direito a comentários diversificados no quadro do contraditório e o direito a que as divergências ou reclamações de terceiros ofendidos sejam resolvidos em tribunal e não por via de grupos organizados com o auxílio de órgãos do Estado. Elas são ainda autoritárias porque os meios e recursos do Estado, sobretudo dos órgãos de comunicação social do Estado, são usados para servir apenas um partido e quem está no poder e desse lugar compete nas eleições de maneira desleal.

In my opinion, the elections underway are authoritarian elections, because fundamental rights continue to be violated. For example, the right not to suffer physical violence or persecution by third parties because of our opinions; the right to inform, to be informed and to get informed; the right not be deprived of liberty by illegal means; the right to make complaints based on true facts against acts by agents of political power; the right to objective and true information and the right to diverse commentary on the contrary side and the right to have divergences or complaints by offended third parties resolved in court and not by way of organized groups with help of state institutions. These elections are still authoritarian because the means and resources of the State, above all the media institutions of the State, are used to serve only one party and those in power and from this position they compete in bad faith.

On Angola Sempre [pt], a small analysis of the pre-elections environment is made, making reference to the political manoeuvring of MPLA:

O MPLA passa grande parte do tempo a remendar os estragos visíveis de uma má governação de mãos dadas com a corrupção galopante que percorre todos os corredores do poder centralizado em Luanda. As inaugurações sucedem-se num ritmo acelerado para esconder décadas de incompetência e compadrio. A HORA da mudança chegou!

The MPLA spends much of its time remedying the visible damage of bad governance that goes hand-in-hand with corruption run wild through all of the halls of centralized power in Luanda. Opening ceremonies happen at an accelerated rate to hide the decades of incompetence and favoritism. Time for change has arrived!

Author of the blog Pululu [pt] expresses what the majority of Angolan people feel, the desire for these elections to turn Angola into a developed country:

Que o 31 de Agosto não seja o fim mas o início de uma sã e competitiva caminhada democrática entre os candidatos eleitos a favor de uma única via: desenvolvimento social, político e económico de Angola!

Let August 31 not be the end but the beginning of a healthy, competitive democratic walk by the elected candidates on one sole path: towards the social, political and economic development of Angola!

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