Angola court rejects UNITA appeal, says vote was fair

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 2:53 PM
Angola court rejects UNITA appeal, says vote was fair

By Shrikesh Laxmidas

LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola's top court on Wednesday rejected appeals by the main opposition UNITA and two smaller parties over alleged irregularities in an election won comfortably by the MPLA party of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos last month.

The ruling by the Constitutional Court - Angola's highest legal body - means the opposition parties have run out of legal avenues to contest the vote outcome and paves the way for Dos Santos to be sworn in, most probably next week.

Dos Santos, who has been in power in Africa's No. 2 oil producer for 33 years, and his party secured a new five-year term in the August 31 election, obtaining 72 percent of the vote.

UNITA, which came second with 19 percent, had appealed against the national elections commission's rejection of its complaints about problems with the electoral roll, insufficient access for opposition party delegates to polling stations, and discrepancies in vote-counting. UNITA maintained that such irregularities made the vote unfair and fraudulent.

Smaller parties CASA-CE and PRS had filed similar appeals.

"The Constitutional Court has finished its assessment of the appeals about the election and concluded they are unfounded," Judge Rui Ferreira, the court's president, told reporters.

"We declare that the election was free, transparent, universal and fair. Consequently, the election and the results are valid and so the president-elect, the vice-president-elect and elected lawmakers should be sworn in."

Observers from the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking States said the election, only the second since the MPLA won a 27-year civil war against UNITA a decade ago, had been credible.

The United States considered the ballot well-managed, but acknowledged "important concerns" raised by opposition parties.

UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva said before the election that the party would "resort to the courts and the people" if the vote was unfair. None of the opposition parties have called street demonstrations since the vote.

"This is one step, the court has ruled about the complaints regarding the electoral law," Jose Cachiungo, a UNITA leader who was responsible for filing the appeal, told reporters.

"But UNITA will not stop here and already on Thursday we will file a new complaint about acts committed by the elections body and the government that were unconstitutional," he added, though without providing further details.

His party has also accused the MPLA of using state resources for its own benefit and for rigging the vote. The MPLA has denied the charges, which it says are designed to excuse the opposition's poor showing at the polls.

UNITA said last week it would assume its 32 seats in parliament while it continues with efforts to contest the vote.

The once Marxist MPLA switched to a multi-party system in 1992, but critics say a democratic facade hides a self-serving elite propped up by a pervasive security apparatus. Most Angolan officials, including judges, are appointed by the president.

Defending its election performance, MPLA held up Dos Santos as the best guarantor of peace and prosperity, citing strong growth since the end of the war that led to a cut in poverty levels to 39 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2002.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)