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Angola's ruling party faces tight poll test

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LUANDA: Millions of Angolans will vote on Wednesday in polls expected to be the most competitive since the country's first multiparty vote in 1992 but with electoral fraud a concern among voters.

A youthful and largely poor electorate will decide whether to continue with the liberation movement that has ruled since independence or embrace change with the opposition led by a charismatic coalition-builder.

Eight political parties are standing, but the real contest is between the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and its long-standing rival and former rebel movement the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Stakes are high for MPLA now led by incumbent President Joao Lourenco, who was first elected in 2017 and is seeking a second term.

Many Angolans are weary of the party that has held power since the country won independence from colonial power Portugal in 1975.

Despite the oil wealth that benefited the former president, late Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his family, many of Angola's 33 million people live in poverty and seek change.

"There is a lot of expectation within society," said Claudio Silva, a political commentator in the capital Luanda. "People are very excited because there is a prospect for actual change."

For many, the face of change is UNITA leader Adalberto Costa Junior, nicknamed "ACJ", who has reinvigorated the opposition since taking the helm in 2019 promising a better future.

A talented orator, Costa Junior has captivated young urban voters with pledges to reform government and tackle poverty and corruption.

He broadened the party's base with an untraditional, collaborative approach, building a coalition with other opposition groups.

Young people aged 10-24 make up 33 per cent of population, according to UN data.

Their concerns differ from older voters, while voters born after Angola's civil war ended in 2002 do not feel an allegiance to the MPLA, said Augusto Santana, an electoral observation specialist.

"They are looking for better education, jobs and living conditions," Santana said. "They want to experience something different."

The MPLA will likely capitalise on Sunday's repatriation of the body of dos Santos, the late longtime president who died in Spain last month, to trumpet its liberation credentials, said Marisa Lourenco, an independent political analyst.

Dos Santos, whose family have faced corruption allegations following his death, has a mixed legacy meaning his repatriation is unlikely to have a "major impact" on the outcome, Lourenco said. - AFP

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