By Shrikesh Laxmidas
LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola's main opposition party UNITA on Tuesday challenged the results of a national election last month in which it finished a distant second behind the ruling MPLA party, calling the vote unfair and a "fraud."
UNITA's challenge, filed with the national elections commission (CNE), had been widely expected after the August 31 vote, which won broad approval from electoral observer teams from the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking States.
Full provisional results announced by the CNE on Friday showed President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos' governing MPLA party winning with 72 percent of the votes, far ahead of former rebel group UNITA with nearly 19 percent.
The win gave Dos Santos a new five-year term to extend his nearly 33 years at the helm of Africa's No. 2 oil producer, but swelling discontent over the unequal distribution of oil wealth could still strain the MPLA's grip on power.
Before the vote, opponents of Dos Santos such as UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva and civil society activists criticized the preparations as one-sided and plagued with irregularities. They accused the MPLA of using the CNE to rig the election, a charge denied by electoral officials and the ruling party.
"The election was an unequal, unfair and disloyal competition in which the Angolan people were the main victims of a fraud," UNITA said in a statement.
Third-placed CASA-CE, a party created four months ago by UNITA dissident Abel Chivukuvuku and which obtained 6 percent of the votes, has also filed allegations about irregularities.
No one at the national elections commission or the MPLA was immediately available for comment.
Voting on August 31 took place peacefully across the country, and none of the opposition parties have so far announced any street protests to contest the result.
Initial results a day after the vote showing the MPLA headed for a landslide win were greeted with apathy in the seaside capital Luanda, indicating the result was widely expected.
Analysts said that despite widespread unhappiness over wealth inequalities, the MPLA had projected itself as the best guarantee of stability after the end of a 27-year civil war a decade ago, and this could undermine any opposition efforts to promote protests against the election result.
"There is that war fatigue, definitely, in the provinces," Mark Shroeder, Director of Sub-Saharan Africa Analysis at Strafor Global Intelligence, told Reuters.
The MPLA won the war against UNITA and then crushed its rival in a 2008 election by obtaining 82 percent of the votes. UNITA challenged the 2008 results - in which it obtained 10 percent of the votes - but its appeals were rejected then by the CNE and the courts.
UNITA said last month's vote process broke the law in several aspects, including "manipulation" of the electoral roll that prevented over a third of voters from casting their ballots.
The party repeated earlier complaints that over 40 percent of its delegates were denied access to polling stations, and said that vote-counting had been conducted illegally, although it did not provide further details.
"The violations of the law are so serious that after challenging the acts by the CNE, UNITA will pursue all these crimes in the justice system," it added.
Under electoral law, parties must first address complaints to the CNE but may appeal to the Constitutional Court, the highest legal body, if the elections commission rejects them.
UNITA's Samakuva has already said he does not consider the country's judicial system to be independent.
The party said it will take the 36 seats it won in the 220-seat parliament while its challenge is analyzed.
The United States, a major buyer of Angolan oil along with China and the European Union, last week congratulated Angola for "a peaceful and well-managed election."
But it acknowledged "important concerns" raised by opposition parties over unequal access to the media, problems with voter rolls, and lack of timely accreditation of election observers.
Neither the EU nor the United States sent formal election observer missions to witness the August 31 vote.
Analysts said Western governments appeared to have been reluctant to look too closely at the Angolan elections, mindful that any criticism could damage their strategic oil supply relationships with the major African producer.
(Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jane Merriman)