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Show me a better life and I'll vote

[Angola] Children.
Vitamins and minerals are critical for a child's development (IRIN)

Last-minute radio jingles have been trying to persuade people like Almerindo Malessu to vote on Friday but, like many other Angolans, the jobless father of two thinks the parliamentary elections – the first in the country for 16 years – are a waste of time.

"Nothing convinces me that these elections will change either my life or my family's," Malessu, 22, told IRIN. The froth of campaigning is everywhere: billboards and banners deck the capital, Luanda, but there seems little expectation – especially among young people - that the polls will bring any real change to a country ruled by the MPLA since independence in 1975.

The National Electoral Commission (CNE) is fighting the indifference: "If you do not vote you lose the right to complain later," notes a radio and television advertisement appealing to the 8.3 million registered voters to turn out on polling day.

"We know that there is evidence that we need to work harder to tell our fellow citizens about how important their vote is," a CNE spokesman told the Catholic-run station, Radio Ecclesia.

Sandra Pinto, a 27-year-old student, is not convinced. "I just think these elections do not mean that much to me; perhaps for others, who have been benefiting from the country's wealth. Pointing to a huge MPLA flag in a crowded Luanda street, she said, "What can they offer me? And the opposition is just a joke."

But mechanic Manuel Chilombo is more upbeat: "My big expectation is that, at the end of this process we all gain experience, our country enters in the normal process of democracy - no matter who wins. We just need good governance and a better place to live."

Peaceful polls

Ten parties and four coalitions are competing for 220 national assembly seats, but in this election the real contest is not over whether the MPLA, a former liberation movement, will win, but whether they can get a two-thirds majority, allowing them to change the constitution.

Friday 5 September will be the first time Angolans have gone to the polls since 1992, when elections were meant to crown a peace process but instead triggered a return to civil war after the then rebel group, UNITA, refused to accept their narrow defeat.

State-run radio stations, which dominate the airwaves, have all been running special election programmes appealing to Angolans for a free and fair ballot.

According to the World Bank, Angola's oil-fuelled economy is one of fastest growing in the world. In 2007 growth topped a record 27 percent and is set to reach 16 percent by the end of 2008. Massive Chinese oil-backed loans helped the government invest US$7.1 billion last year in rebuilding infrastructure around the country, a recent report by the Angolan Catholic University noted.

Booming Angola

Since the end of the civil war in 2002, a building boom has transformed Luanda's skyline and, the MPLA hopes, the popular image of the party. "We have enough money to pay all our external debts," finance minister José Pedro de Morais said on government radio this week, after learning that he had been named Africa "Personality of the year" by the London-based Foreign Direct Investment magazine. 


Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN
The real Luanda

Despite its wealth of resources - oil, diamonds - Angolans remain among the world's poorest people. The UN says around 70 percent of the 16 million population live on less than $2 a day, and the discrepancy between the lives of those crammed into Luanda's unserviced, neglected barrios and the elite driving their 4x4 Hummers along the seafront in one of the world's most expensive cities, is extreme.

"The country is making a lot of money now - so what? Does it have any impact on my life?" asked Amélia Trindade, a 36-year-old street vendor. "This is perhaps a strong reason why these guys cannot be trusted ... Everyone tells me that I need to vote, but no one says how the politicians will help improve my life."

The debate over whether elections in Angola can be really free and fair continues. Civil society organisations have all denounced the lack of access by the opposition to the public media, and the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) is concerned about the level of intimidation.

In a recent report HRW said the government was "failing to fully ensure the right to free elections and other rights critical to a fair poll, including the freedoms of expression and assembly".

It noted that there had been incidents of political violence, mainly in the rural areas, which were fiercely contested in the three decades of civil war between the MPLA and UNITA, now the country's largest opposition party.

Referring to a slogan MPLA officials have been using to describe the polls, Fernando Macedo, head of the local human rights group Associação Justiça Paz e Democracia noted: "We just do not see how our elections could be an example for Africa."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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