The provisional results of the elections in Angola gave the advantage to the incumbent President, João Lourenço, and to the ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
The elections are the most contested vote in the country’s democratic history and have been described by analysts as an “existential moment”.
The opposition also claimed a lead, raising tensions and fears of unrest when the full results are known in the coming days.
The counting of the ballots began after the polls closed on Wednesday. On Thursday, the electoral commission said that with around 86% of the votes counted, the MPLA led with a majority of 52%, while its main opposition rivals the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola ( Unita), led by Adalberto Costa Júnior, had 42%.
The vote for Unita would be a big step up from previous elections, but still below the levels needed to threaten the MPLA, in power since Angola declared independence from Portugal in 1975.
Pre-election polls had shown the MPLA only seven percentage points ahead, but huge numbers had yet to make a choice.
Earlier on Thursday, Unita deputy leader Abel Chivukuvuku told Portuguese radio TSF that the party was considering contesting the results because they “did not correspond to reality”, fueling fears of post-election violence. He had told reporters on Wednesday evening that reports from counting centers had given us “a clear provisional indication of a winning trend for Unita in all the provinces of the country”.
Past election results have been disputed, in a process that could take weeks.
Observers have warned that dissatisfaction with the power of the MPLA has reached such a point that the party can now only secure five more years in power through widespread rigging and repression.
An activist watchdog group, Mudei Movement, took photos of the results sheets at as many polling stations as possible, fearing the fraud that has marred previous polls.
Unita urged voters to stay close to polling stations after casting their ballots, a plea many appeared to heed as polling stations closed on Wednesday evening. “The police said vote and go home. I told them I was going to vote and sit down,” said Severano Manuel, 28, in Cacuaco, near Luanda.
The electoral commission said earlier that the poll went well.
Analysts say the opposition will face a dilemma if they reject the official results. Launching a campaign of street protests would expose Unita to accusations of deliberately fomenting unrest, but seeking redress through legal or constitutional means is unlikely to succeed.
The elections pitted veteran politicians in power for decades against a generation of young voters who are just beginning to grasp the potential for radical change.
Lourenço, a former Soviet-trained general who promised a new era for the South African nation when he succeeded veteran leader José Eduardo dos Santos five years ago, called on voters to recognize his achievements in office.
The 68-year-old MPLA veteran is credited with enacting some reforms, including enhancing financial transparency and efficiency of parastatal organizations, and promoting business-friendly policies to attract foreign investors.
However, Lourenço largely failed to improve the lives of most of the 35 million inhabitants. Critics say a high-profile anti-corruption campaign only targeted potentially powerful enemies – like Isabel dos Santos, the ex-president’s hugely wealthy daughter – while Amnesty International described “an unprecedented crackdown on human rights , including unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests”. , ahead of the August 24 elections.
The discreet and nocturnal repatriation of the remains of José Eduardo dos Santos, who died in Spain last month, added a macabre touch to the election. The former president will be buried on Sunday, which would have been his 80th birthday.
Although only eight years younger than the incumbent, Costa Júnior tried to position himself as a representative of young civil society and of all those who lost under the years of MPLA rule. More than 60% of Angolans are under 24 years old.
Angola’s incumbent claims election lead amid rising tensions