Angola held legislative elections in September 2008, the first since 1992. The ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA)-in power since 1975-substantially increased its majority, winning 191 out of 220 parliamentary seats. The main opposition party, the National Union for the Independence of Angola (UNITA), had held 70 seats but retained only 16.
The elections were generally peaceful during the campaign and on polling day, yet fell short of international and regional standards. The playing field for political parties was uneven, with unequal access to state resources and the media, and the MPLA dominating state institutions and the election oversight body. The landslide victory gives the MPLA the opportunity to reinforce its grip on the state, the economy, the media, and civil society; it can now revise the constitution without opposition support. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place during 2009.
In the months before the elections, intimidation and sporadic incidents of violence in rural areas restricted campaigning by opposition parties. During the official electoral campaign period and on polling day, the police provided even-handed security.
The National Electoral Commission (CNE), with a majority of members MPLA-aligned, was not able or willing to fulfill its role as an oversight body. A governmental body, the Inter-ministerial Commission for the Electoral Process (CIPE) retained almost exclusive control of voter registration. The CNE failed to address major violations of electoral laws, including unequal access of parties to the public media and ruling-party abuse of state resources and facilities. Moreover, the CNE obstructed accreditation of more than half of the independent national civil society election observers for polling day, giving preference to government-funded observers.
Polling day was marred by numerous logistical and procedural problems and irregularities, forcing the extension of voting by another day in Luanda, home to one-third of the electorate. Observers were not allowed to monitor the tabulation process. UNITA challenged electoral results in Luanda, and four other parties challenged the distribution of seats, but the recently inaugurated Constitutional Court rejected complaints for lack of evidence. The commission set up by CNE to investigate alleged irregularities lacked credibility, as it was totally made up of CNE members.
Since 1975 rebels in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda have been fighting for independence. A 2006 peace agreement was meant to end the conflict. However, many local people reject it as they felt excluded from peace talks. Sporadic armed clashes continue in the interior. During the elections, international electoral observers remained near the provincial capital for security reasons. European Parliament observers publicly reported massive irregularities during the vote.
Freedom of association and expression in Cabinda continues to be particularly restrictive. The police regularly and arbitrarily arrest members of catholic groups critical of the terms of the peace agreement and of the new bishop appointed in 2005. In 2008, at least 14 civilians were accused of "crimes against the security of the state," and some have reportedly been mistreated in military detention. On September 16, the Military Court in Cabinda sentenced former Voice of America reporter Fernando Lelo to 12 years in imprison for armed rebellion and "crimes against the security of the state." Though a civilian, he was arrested in November 2007 and tried before a Military Court in a hearing at which no evidence was produced to sustain the accusations against him. According to defense lawyers, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) soldiers convicted with Lelo were tortured while in military detention. The arbitrary nature of these detentions, the alleged torture, and lack of a fair trial suggest the convictions were intended to intimidate people and discourage criticism of the peace agreement.
Freedom of Expression
Since late 2007 the media environment has deteriorated in Angola. Legislation required to implement crucial parts of a press law enacted in May 2006, which would bring improvements to the legal protection of freedom of expression and access to information, was not passed. Private radio stations cannot broadcast nationwide and there is no independent scrutiny of the public media, which remains biased in favor of the ruling party. During 2008 several state media journalists were suspended because they had criticized the government in public debates.
Defamation remains a criminal offence. Many of the legal provisions to protect media freedom and access to information are vaguely formulated, which can intimidate journalists and hamper their ability to criticize the government.
Since late 2007 courts accelerated legal proceedings in pending criminal prosecutions against private media journalists. For example, in June 2008 a court sentenced the editor of the private weekly Semánario Angolense, Felisberto Graça Campos, to six months in jail and ordered him to pay US$ 90,000 in damages, following conviction in three separate libel cases filed by government officials, years ago. At this writing, Graça Campos is awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
Housing Rights and Forced Evictions
The government has announced plans to allocate more resources for social housing over the next five years. However, the legal framework for housing rights in Angola-including the Land Law and the Law on Urban Management-does not protect from forced evictions and fulfill the right to adequate housing. Despite the fact that many people forcibly evicted in recent years continue to await compensation and alternative housing, UN Habitat chose Luanda to hold celebrations for UN Habitat Day on October 6, 2008.
Human Rights Defenders
The environment in Angola for civil society organizations has worsened since 2007. In July 2007, the head of the government's Technical Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UTCAH), Pedro Walipi Kalenga, accused several national and international civil society organizations of illegal activities. In previous statements, he had threatened some active human rights organizations with closure. Such statements amounted to harassment and intimidation of human rights groups ahead of the elections.
On September 4, 2008-the eve of polling-the Constitutional Court told the human rights organization Association Justice Peace and Democracy (AJPD) that it had 15 days to challenge proceedings banning it. A legal complaint against AJPD had been lodged by the attorney general in 2003 on the grounds that the organization's statutes did not conform to the law. Article 8 of the Law on Associations limits the possibility for civil society organizations to influence policy making. Members of the AJPD regularly criticized the government in the course of the electoral process for bias in the public media and violations of electoral laws. AJPD is awaiting the outcome of its appeal.
The Constitutional Law grants freedom of association, but the Law on Associations enacted in 1991 and a decree-law on NGOs enacted in 2003, which regulate the activity of civil society organizations, include a number of provisions that limit freedom of association. Ever since the end of the humanitarian emergency in 2004, the government has pursued a policy of controlling and restricting space for civil society organizations. The government has been revising the legal framework for civil society organizations since 2007, but the process was stalled before the elections.
Key International Actors
Angola's increasingly important strategic role as the biggest Sub-Saharan oil producer (due to assume the chair of OPEC in 2009), one of the fastest-growing world economies, and a regional military power has greatly reduced leverage of partners and international organizations that have pushed for good governance and human rights. Commercial partners remain reluctant to criticize the government, in order to protect economic interests.
The EU has in the past approached the government regarding harassment of human rights defenders, but has not done so publicly. However, the EU sent an important election observer mission-the only one with long-term observers-and reported critically on the elections.
Most international observer missions to September's elections, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Pan-African Parliament, the African Union, and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, came shortly before the polls and left shortly afterwards. SADC, in which Angola plays an important role as a member of the Troika, declared the elections "free and fair," even though the elections did not comply with its own Guidelines and Principles Governing Democratic Elections.
The government retains an uneasy relationship with the United Nations, which was not invited to observe the elections. In March 2008 the government ordered the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to leave the county by the end of May-three months before the elections. The government alleged that the Office had never acquired legal status in the country and its role to promote human rights had been fulfilled. This decision was a rejection of international human rights scrutiny in the run-up to the elections, and of a commitment to increase cooperation with the OHCHR that Angola made at the UN General Assembly before its May 2007 election to the Human Rights Council.