Freedom in the World
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A presidential election that had been scheduled for 2009 after repeated delays was postponed yet again during the year, as a commission dominated by the ruling party failed to meet its deadline to present a new draft constitution. Also in 2009, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo engaged in tit-for-tat refugee expulsions, sending thousands of Angolans back over the border without adequate humanitarian preparations.
Angola was racked by civil war for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. Peace accords in 1991 and 1994 failed to end fighting between the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the government, controlled by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), but the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002 helped to spur a successful ceasefire deal later that year. UNITA subsequently transformed itself into Angola’s largest opposition party.
The conflict claimed an estimated one million lives, displaced more than four million people, and forced over half a million to flee to neighboring countries. Many resettled people have remained without land, basic resources, or even identification documents. The resettlement process was slowed by the presence of an estimated 500,000 land mines and a war-ruined infrastructure, which made large tracts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian aid. The United Nations concluded its voluntary refugee repatriation program in 2007, and between August and October 2009, Angola and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) engaged in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions. The resulting return of some 32,000 Angolans and 19,000 Congolese to their home countries raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis.
Legislative elections, delayed repeatedly since 1997, were finally held in September 2008. As expected, the ruling MPLA won a sweeping victory, taking 191 of 220 seats. UNITA placed second among 14 parties, with 16 seats. While both domestic and international observers found that the results reflected the people’s will, the voting was less than free and fair. The run-up to the elections was marred by political violence, pro-MPLA bias in the state media, and other problems, and many polling places in the capital failed to open on election day. UNITA accepted the outcome after an initial challenge of the Luanda results was rejected by the electoral commission.
The presidential election, scheduled for 2009 after a number of delays, was postponed once again that year. The MPLA made a new constitution a precondition for the presidential vote, and in July 2009 the country’s Constitutional Commission announced that it would not meet the September deadline for presenting its draft. The commission was made up of members of the MPLA-dominated parliament.
Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, has enjoyed an economic boom in recent years, though it slowed in 2009 following a drop in oil prices. Corruption and mismanagement have prevented the country’s wealth from reaching most residents. Eighty-five percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, and the United Nations estimates that 54 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
Angola is not an electoral democracy. Long-delayed legislative elections held in September 2008, while largely reflective of the people’s will, were not free and fair. The 220-seat National Assembly, whose members serve four-year terms, has little power, and 90 percent of legislation originates in the executive branch. The president, who is supposed to serve five-year terms, directly appoints the prime minister, cabinet, and provincial governors. Presidential elections, repeatedly delayed since 1997, were postponed again in 2009.