According to today’s announcement by the Council of the Republic, elections in Angola will be held on August 31. In the past week, preparations for the electoral process have taken some remarkable twists and turns. They might signal either a new chapter in the democratization process or the postponement of the elections or even a more complex manouevring for electoral fraud.
On May 15, the Ministry for Territorial Administration (MAT) formally handed over the Electoral Register Central Database (FICRE) to the National Electoral Commission (CNE). The database contains the details of more than 9.7 million voters. By law, the CNE should have had the responsibility to register voters, but the ruling party, Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA), in power for nearly 37 years, circumvented the constitution and the electoral laws, and allowed MAT to undertake the job without public scrutiny. Usually, this ministry is the preserve of a senior MPLA politburo member, as is the case with the current minister, Bornito de Sousa.
However, according to CNE commissioners, contacted for this article, the handover of the database was simply a formal procedure. The ministry continues to work on the updating of more than two million entries, which should include the deletion of deceased voters, among other essential elements to guarantee the accuracy of voters’ registration.
On the same day as the formal delivery of voters’ information, the public learnt that the president of the CNE, Suzana Inglês, personally chose Deloitte to audit the database.
The Law on General Elections requires that the transfer of custody and management of FICRE had to be preceded by an audit. This legal requirement was also violated, because it was revealed that Deloitte only started the audit upon the formal transfer of the voters’ registry.
What is more, the choice of Deloitte is also fraught with irregularities. Ms. Inglês chose the company without public tender, as required by law. Also, she did not submit her choice to the plenary of CNE, in which opposition parties are also represented and can vote on such matters, as established by law. On the part of Deloitte, this offshoot of the U.K.-based auditing multinational has serious conflicts of interest in the process. Suzana Inglês’s son, Henda Inglês, is on the payroll of Deloitte as a member of the jury of its much hyped Sirius Awards that were set up to recognise and honour supposedly good businesses practices among members of the Angolan elite. As the presiding member of the jury, Deloitte has bankrolled the services of the MPLA’s politburo secretary for Economic Affairs, Manuel Júnior, who is also a Member of Parliament, and a candidate in the upcoming elections. Last December, Deloitte delivered a “special prize” to the President of the Republic and of MPLA, José Eduardo dos Santos, for what the company considered his achievements for peace and development in the country. After nearly 33 years in power, Mr. Dos Santos is running to remain in the job, for which he has never been democratically elected.
Mr. Dos Santos and Deloitte have been courting publicly since last October, when the president received the company’s director in Angola, Rui Santos Silva, to discuss “matters related to the company’s operations in the country.”
After the selection of Deloitte and the handover of the database, Suzana Inglês delivered a letter to President Dos Santos, on May 16, informing him that all conditions had been met for him to call for elections
A day later, the Supreme Court annulled Suzana Inglês’s appointment as president of CNE on the grounds that it was illegal, since the law requires the CNE president to be a serving judge, which Ms. Inglês is not. As such, the administrative acts undertaken by Ms. Inglês, including the Deloitte’s audit and the memorandum delivered to the president, are already being contested as null and void.
Why did the Supreme Court decide to make its ruling public only after all the acts for the preparations of elections had already been undertaken, and publicly considered complete, in violation of the laws? Angola is still very much run as a one-party state, and the judiciary has no independence from the political powers. For instance, on April 30, 2012, president Dos Santos promoted the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Cristiano André, to the rank of three-star general of the Angolan Armed Forces, further compromising any idea of the court’s autonomy. This is the same Supreme Court that in 2005 ruled that the president has never been elected by the people and, as such, is only a caretaker president. The decision was a political manoeuvre to allow Dos Santos to circumvent the two-term limit imposed by the constitution, and run again for two more consecutive mandates totaling 10 years. If all goes as planned, he will be in power for 43 years.
With these acts, the president is sowing doubts and confusion over the elections and the democratization process to enable him to have the last word. He convened the Council of the Republic, a consultative body of the presidency, who advised him to call for elections on August 31. The electoral process is fraught with gross violations of the law and the international basic standards of electoral procedures, to which Angola has subscribed, but the president can claim that the decision was not his. Such an option would suffice for him to maintain international legitimacy, as major powerhouses wrestle to provide greater support to Mr. Dos Santos, in exchange for oil and access to Angola’s market.
The second option lies in public protest. On May 19, for the first time since the first-ever multiparty elections of 1992, the main opposition party, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) drew crowds far larger than MPLA, in some provinces of Angola, including in Luanda, to demand free and fair elections, as well as changes. While these street protests were conducted without incidents, the recent wave of violence against anti-government youth groups does not predict a positive scenario. On the contrary, it seems to point that the regime, rotting in its own pinnacle of power and without an exit strategy, will brutally repress any dissent, failing to take advantage of the historic opportunity to move Angola into a democratic path.