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40 percent abstention at Angola elections

Tuesday - 9/4/2012, 11:37am  ET

By LULA AHRENS
Associated Press

LUANDA, Angola (AP) - Forty percent of voters abstained from casting ballots in Angola's legislative elections, the electoral commission said of a shocking rate for Africa that some blamed on cynicism over the ruling party's victory after 33 years in power. Others blamed faulty electoral rolls that included people who died a long time ago.

Eighty-seven percent of voters participated in 2008 elections in the southern African nation where President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' government is accused of corruption and mismanagement of oil and diamond riches. His party is the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA.

"My vote won't make any difference anyway, everyone knew that the MPLA would win," 34-year-old security guard Lemos Miguel said after Friday's elections, explaining the absence of blue voting ink on his finger.

Lourenco Bento, press officer for the biggest opposition party, UNITA, believes the difference between the number of registered voters and the number of people who actually voted is a symptom of faulty electoral rolls and disorganization.

"For one, there were dead people on the electoral rolls," Bento told The Associated Press Monday night. "Secondly, many voters were told at the designated polling station in their neighborhood that they were meant to vote elsewhere, hundreds of kilometers (miles) away."

After his victory, dos Santos, who has never been directly elected in 33 years in power, promised in a televised address Monday to "serve the interests of all Angolans."

After 2008 legislative elections, dos Santos, 70, repeatedly postponed presidential elections until the national assembly last year changed the constitution so that the leader of the party with the highest votes becomes the president. The MPLA win gives him another five years in power.

With almost 98 percent of votes counted Tuesday, the electoral commission's Web site gave the MPLA 72 percent of votes, down 10 percent from its 2008 win.

It lost votes to UNITA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, which nearly doubled its take to 18.7 percent.

In third place with 6 percent is a new coalition uniting former enemies in the MPLA, UNITA and people from other parties. Angolan News agency Angop reported that 14 coalition supporters were released from jail on Sunday.

Both UNITA and the coalition have complained of the uneven playing field in the election and the possibilities for fraud. They are conducting their own count, concerned by charges that soldiers in the Military Affairs Cabinet that reports directly to the president's office have been installed in the electoral commission. The same thing happened in 2008 when the military was involved in transportation, distribution and handling of ballots, ballots boxes and minutes for election results, according to Chatham House, the London-based independent

In Luanda, the seaside capital, the MPLA gained 60 percent of the vote with 25 percent going to UNITA and 13.5 percent to the Broad Convergence for Angola's Salvation, known by its initials CASA-CE. The usually boisterous and noisy city of 7 million was practically deserted on election day, with voting largely peaceful and organized.

The ruling party also won 60 percent in the in the contested oil-rich enclave of Cabinda, diamond region Lunda Sul and even in UNITA stronghold Huambo. Elsewhere the MPLA won above 80 percent of votes with 87.5 percent in western Malange.

Angola was a Cold War battlefield for 27 years, with Cuban soldiers and Soviet money supporting dos Santos' MPLA and apartheid South Africa and the United States backing UNITA. Half a million people d died in the war, more than 4 million _ a third of the population _ was displaced and much infrastructure was destroyed.

Since the war ended in 2002, Angola has dominated the list of the world's fastest growing economies and is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest oil producer.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)