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Angola: Voter Silence Also Speaks

Reports coming in on election day in Angola (31 August, 2012) have indicated things have gone peacefully and that there were no serious disruptions to polling. Yet a number of problems with the actual voting have been reported by citizens, including problems with accreditation of observers, people being assigned to the wrong polling stations, and questions about tampering with ballot boxes, as this article illustrates.

Global Voices reported on the eve of elections that there were serious doubts about the transparency and organization of the vote. This has lead to a widespread feeling of apathy among the voters, which may well be described by MCK's critical rap song O Silêncio Também Fala (Silence Also Speaks) [pt].

According to results read by the National Elections Commission on Angolan TV, 57% of some 10 million voters turned out to the polls, a significant decrease from 2008, when voter turnout was 87%. (Abstention figures may reach as high as 75% [pt] in some provinces.) Provisional results suggest high abstention in Angola's capital, Luanda.

MPLA, the ruling party of José Eduardo dos Santos, has taken 74.46% of the preliminary results [pt] presented by the National Elections Commission, followed by UNITA, 17. 94%, and CASA-CE, 4.53%.

Complaints about organization, allegations of tampering

While in some places, there were reports of very calm, even deserted polling stations, there were also problems early on. Citizen reporter H Coroado filmed frustrated voters at a polling station near the airport in Luanda – where many still had not voted by 10am, when the polls were to have opened at 7am. Some people had arrived at 6am. Election officials told voters that they were “lacking materials”.

Voters complained via SMS and email to the website Eleições Angola [pt] that they were assigned to distant polling stations:

A Rádio Nacional de Angola relatou que na Huíla, um jovem não votou porque o nome dele não saiu na mesma província e veio sair em Luanda, e segundo o jovem: não conhece Luanda.

The National Radio of Angola reported that in Huíla, a young man didn’t vote because his name wasn’t assigned to the same province and ended up in Luanda, and according to him: [he] doesn’t know Luanda.
Polling station in Benguela. Photo by Jesse Lufendo on Facebook

Polling station in Benguela. Photo by Jesse Lufendo on Facebook (used with permission)

The same website also has accusations of potential tampering with ballot boxes and other irregularities:

Agentes não identificados que se faziam acompanhar num carro de marca toyota com a matricula ld 64-69 ea que se fizeram a escola 9064 estão a carregar as urnas para local incerto. Chegaram ao local e depois de conversar com a policia presente no local e o presidente da mesa lhes foi permitido o acesso a partir da porta dos fundos, estou a testemunhar isso agora e é muito grave. Joaquim Pereira, Grafanil

Unidentified agents who were accompanied in a car with the registration mark Toyota ld 64-69 and who made it to school 9064 are carrying ballot boxes to unknown locations. They arrived on the scene and after talking with the police present at the scene and with the president of the station they were allowed access from the back door, I am witnessing this now and it is very serious. Joaquim Pereira, Grafanil
Rapper Luaty Beirão after voting. Photo by Pedrowski Teca on Facebook

Rapper Luaty Beirão after voting. Photo by Pedrowski Teca on Facebook (used with permission)

Meanwhile, netizens shared images on Twitter and on Facebook of their painted fingers as proof they had voted.

At various polling stations around the country, the vote ended sooner than expected. In areas where power went out, the counting was done by candlelight, with the aid of flashlights or light coming from mobile phones.

On Facebook user Castelo Pedro wrote [pt]:

A falta de luz nas assembleias de votos é uma grande verdade, quase em todo país, porque eu acabo de chegar em casa estive a trabalhar como delegado e onde trabalhei havia mais de 40 mesas e os votos terminaram às 17 horas por falta de luz.

The lack of electricity in polling stations is a big truth, in almost all of the country, because I’ve just arrived at home I had been working as a delegate and where I worked there were more than 40 stations and the voting finished at 5pm due to lack of light.

Lack of observers

Journalist Barnaby Phillips (@BarnabyPhillips) remarked on Twitter that the only international observers were from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and that they were only in 4 of Angola’s 18 provinces. Louise Redvers (@LouiseRedvers), also a journalist, tweeted:

I have not seen a single SADC or AU observer on my travels around polling stations in Luanda today

And added:

UNITA spokesman tells me over 1,000 party delegates did not get credentials to observe polling stations. #Angola

Portuguese member of European Parliament Ana Gomes wrote [pt] on the blog Causa Nossa (Our Cause) that “it wouldn't be worth the risk of going to Angola to give credibility to a process that, from the outset, was predictably flawed”:

Sendo as missões de observação eleitoral bastante dispendiosas, é entendimento do PE que só vale a pena enviá-las (a par de outras acções de apoio democrático) a países onde há, da parte das autoridades e forças da oposição, real motivação para um genuíno processo de transição ou consolidação democrática. (…) a UE concluiu, pela experiência de 2008 e posterior atitude governamental, que não havia nas autoridades angolanas vontade de ter observação independente

Since election observation missions are quite expensive, the EP [European Parliament] understands that it is only worth sending them (along with other actions of democratic support) to countries where there is, on the part of the authorities and opposition forces, real motivation for a genuine process of democratic transition or consolidation. (…) The EU has concluded, from the experience of 2008 and subsequent government action, that there was no will from the Angolan authorities to have independent observation

SADC observer and Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe (@BernardMembe) tweeted during the polls, announcing that SADC would release a report on Sunday 2. (SADC praised the 2008 poll which the EU was so critical of.)

Vania Negrão contributed to this post.

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