Oil Rich Angola’s Pro-Russian Government Losing Ground

Angolan voters will vote on Wednesday in a tight race, in which the main opposition UNITA has its best-ever chance of victory. The African nation’s young population is frustrated with nearly five decades of MPLA rule, feeling left out of the country’s oil-fueled booms. While the ruling party remains favorite, the margin has become narrower and a surprise victory for UNITA is on the cards. A change in government could shift relations with global superpowers, with a possibly less friendly relations with Russia.

Angola has been ruled by Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) since its independence from Portugal in 1975. The country is led by President Lourenço since 2017.

A survey in May showed MPLA was still ahead, but the opposition coalition, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), increasing its share to 22%, from 13% in 2019. The survey showed there was still a seven point lead for MPLA, but nearly half of the voters were undecided. 60% of Angola’s population is under 25 years old and many will vote for the first time.

In a tense run-up to the vote for both president and parliament, UNITA has urged voters to stay near polling stations after voting to reduce the risk of fraud.

Tweaked vote-counting rules may delay official results by days, raising tensions and it is feared that they could boil over into violence.

MPLA has decades of close ties with Moscow, which supported the party during during Angola’s 27-year civil war ending in 2002, while UNITA was U.S.-backed.

UNITA leader Costa Junior condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and also travelled to Brussels and Washington to build ties with Western partners before elections.

Lourenço, while building some ties with the West since he has taken office in 2017, has abstained from supporting a United Nations resolution in March, which condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Analysts say a victory for UNITA could mean Angola distancing itself from Russia, but it would have to consolidate power over a pro-Russian military first.

Lourenço has tried to improve relations with Washington, and just before the elections applied to join a trade agreement with the European Union and southern African states, which has been in force since 2016.

Lourenço has also promised to continue economic reforms, including privatization and encouraging the non-oil sector.

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