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Following in Odinga's footsteps

Opposition parties in Kenya and Angola challenged the official election results – but their petitions were both rejected in their countries' courts

After nearly 50 years of almost total dominance, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) suffered a nasty electoral shock in the 24 August general election (AC Vol 63 No 17, A tale of two elections), winning by only 51% of the vote according to the official count.

The battle is not yet over. The opposition União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) challenged the results in the Constitutional Court in Luanda in the week-ending 3 September. 

Its case was based in part on the findings of the Angolan Electoral Observatory, whose preliminary report  found that the non-publication of the voters' lists 'compromised the transparency' of the elections. UNITA argued that the results collected by its agents at polling stations across the country didn't match those released by the national electoral commission.

But late on 5 September, the Court dismissed the UNITA petition, allowing for President João Lourenço to be sworn in for a second term this month.

The argument could drag on. UNITA says it will seek redress in an international court but has not spelled out what this would mean in practical terms. It may seek to use questions from international observers about the conduct of the elections, to build diplomatic pressure on the government in Luanda.

UNITA leader Adalberto Costa Júnior has stated that his party does not recognise the final results from the Comissão Nacional Eleitoral (CNE – electoral commission) which gave UNITA 44% of the vote, and is mounting a legal challenge. The margin was consistent with pre-election opinion polls by Afrobarometer, which gave the MPLA a seven-point lead (AC Vol 63 No 12, Why UNITA could cause an upset in August).

There are parallels between the Angolan polls and the 9 August presidential elections in Kenya. In Angola, four of the 16 electoral commissioners did not sign off on the final results, expressing doubts about the process. Four out of the seven commissioners in Kenya did the same.

And on 5 September in both Kenya and Angola, the highest courts have rejected challenges to the official election results. In Kenya, the Supreme Court had two weeks to reach its decision after the deadline for election petitions. The time frame was even tighter in Angola – the Constitutional Court has only three days to inform all parties of a challenge and receive submissions, and then a further three days to make a ruling.

As the MPLA believed to have political control over the court – alongside control of the levers of state and media – few had expected that Angola's election  results would be annulled. The Chief Judge of the court, Laurinda Jacinto Prazeres Monteiro Cardoso, who was appointed by President Lourenço last year, is a former government minister and MPLA stalwart. 

Earlier this year, Cardoso ruled that Costa Júnior's election as UNITA party leader in 2019 had been unlawful, prompting the opposition to hastily organise a new party congress (AC Vol 63 No 9, Alarm grows over vote-rigging plans).

However international organisations plan to respond to complaints about the elections, local activists are planning to step up protests, despite a state crackdown.

Civil society groups are denouncing reports of detentions and kidnappings following the elections. Local organisation OMUNGA sent a letter to the Attorney General asking the Public Ministry to investigate detentions of young activists.

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