Angola's opposition has reacted with surprise to news reports that the government was considering delaying elections until 2006.
"We are surprised and disappointed, especially since we had hoped that our appeal to the government [that elections be held in 2005] was acceptable. Like all Angolans, we need clarification on this issue. When does the countdown [to the elections] begin?" asked Isaias Samakuva, the leader of the former rebel group UNITA.
A senior ruling MPLA official said at the weekend that the authorities would need two years to "properly" prepare for elections, the state news agency Angop reported on Monday.
Joao Martins, the MPLA's secretary for political and electoral affairs, noted that the state administration - virtually destroyed during the 27-year-long civil war - still had to be fully restored across the country before voter lists could be drawn up. Roads also needed to be rehabilitated and demining efforts stepped up before the poll could go ahead.
UNITA, expected to be the government's chief challenger, has called for elections to be held in 2005.
The government's apparent delay in announcing a fixed election date was likely to contribute to "feelings of insecurity" among Angolans, Samakuva said.
"The government says it's committed to having elections, but by not announcing the date has led people to think that they are not serious. We know that a lot needs to be done, but we have said that it can be sorted out with a lot of hard work, and elections can go ahead in 2005," Samakuva added.
Angola is currently overhauling its constitution, and approval of the revised constitution is seen as a prerequisite to holding a general election. Last month President Eduardo Dos Santos urged his government to wrap up deliberations before the end of the year.
However, Samakuva said that while the constitutional revision was an important process, this should not be used by authorities as an excuse to delay polling.
"We need an election date as soon as possible, so that we can put an election timetable in operation. The government must begin a dialogue with all opposition parties and civil society to identify the best and most suitable date. Everyone must be involved, because this is an issue of national interest," Samakuva added.
Angola's ambassador to South Africa, Isaac Maria dos Anjos, told IRIN: "It is the prerogative of the president to announce the election date, and we must not be sidelined. The revising of the constitution is very important, because it will set out new rules for elections and also tell us how long a president may stand in power. These are crucial points to agree on before elections go ahead."
He noted that it had taken the authorities 18 months to prepare for the last general election in 1992.
In those polls, Angola's first multiparty contest since independence, the MPLA won 54 percent of the vote in the legislative elections and UNITA 34 percent.
In the presidential poll the results were even closer. Dos Santos scored 49.6 percent to UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi's 40.7 percent. However, UNITA rejected the result and resumed the civil war, which was only brought to a final close in 2002.