Later this year, Angola will hold general elections to elect parliamentary leaders and its president. With new developments on the political scene, including the formation of a new opposition coalition, and growing population frustration with the government – Angola has been in a recession for at least five years – it is expected to be one of the most competitive elections yet. What does all this mean? Our Angola analyst Marisa Lourenço answers some key questions below.

  • While the government is yet to formalise a date for the elections, we do not anticipate it will delay them outside of the five-year election cycle, which concludes in December.
  • Amid socioeconomic decline, the opposition is seeking to translate popular grievances into electoral gains. Nonetheless, we expect the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) to remain in power led by incumbent President João Lourenço.
  • A second term for Lourenço would drive overall policy continuity, and cement gains made under his widespread political and economic reform agenda.
  • Security risk will come under pressure in the run up to the elections, marked by more frequent episodes of civil unrest, though wider instability is unlikely.

When will the elections take place?

The elections are expected to be scheduled in August, but no official timetable has been released. According to Angolan electoral law, the general elections must take place before the end of 2022, which places them within the five-year election cycle.

There is very little risk that the elections will be delayed outside of this cycle, as doing so would cast the ruling MPLA in a negative light, undoing years of improving ties with the West, which as we know, regards democratic functions as key to the legitimacy of any regime. But there is a chance that they will be held later than August – perhaps if there is an increase in civil unrest in the coming months and the government finds deploying election infrastructure difficult, or if the MPLA bides its time to try to counter the new opposition coalition, the United Patriotic Front (FPU).

What is the FPU and is it a real threat to the MPLA’s dominance?

The FPU was spearheaded by the main opposition, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which joined forces with fellow opposition party, Democratic Bloc (BD) and political project, Angolan Renaissance Party – Together for Angola (PRA-JA Servir Angola).

It’s not the first time in Angola’s post-independence history that a coalition has been formed. The Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola – Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE) has been around since 2012 and currently consists of four political parties. But what is different is that it’s the first time that UNITA has decided to open ranks, which is unusual for a former liberation movement turned political party. It indicates that several things have changed. First, UNITA realises it cannot challenge the MPLA alone. Second, it recognises that after at least five years of economic decline in one of the most unequal societies in the world, it has a chance to translate popular grievances into electoral gains. And third, its leadership under Adalberto Costa-Júnior is transforming it into a more strategically-minded political organisation in tune with the reality on the ground.

In some ways, it is a threat to the MPLA’s dominance, particularly as it came about amid growing popular frustration. The recession, which began in 2015, has placed pressure on living standards and youth unemployment, more recently exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Angola is also highly urbanised by developing economy standards – some 65% by 2019 (latest available data) – and the concentration of the population in cities with inadequate housing and utilities infrastructure has heightened dissatisfaction with the government.

A poor performance for the MPLA is relative though, and doesn’t necessarily equate to a loss. We don’t expect the MPLA to drop below 50% of the total vote share, and we also don’t expect Lourenço to be pushed out of office. The MPLA’s organisational and financial might is massive, and should not be underestimated. UNITA’s support typically has also come from rural areas, and it may not be able to make such strong inroads in major cities as it would like.

Is an MPLA win good for business?

Broadly, yes. Lourenço has embarked on a number of political and economic reforms since taking office in 2017, and has tangibly improved the overall ease of doing business in the country. Corruption risk has declined, even if it’s arguably more manageable than better, while bureaucratic hurdles have decreased to some degree. Foreign relations with the West, particularly the US, have improved tremendously, which has been essential in promoting Angola’s privatisation agenda – it aims to sell off 195 state-owned assets – and gaining the confidence of international financial institutions. Lourenço has also improved relations with new partners in the EU, such as Germany which has joined old allies like France and Portugal, which will likely to be instrumental in guidance for economic diversification efforts down the line.

Gains made in the macroeconomic environment  have been especially remarkable. Several years ago, Angola was staring over the edge of a fiscal cliff, as years of borrowing to finance infrastructure projects alongside low revenue earnings in the wake of the 2014 oil price crash left its economy with mounting debt. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 was also a major shock. But by reducing superfluous spending and deepening ties with major credit institutions, it has managed to pull itself back from the edge, gaining investor confidence in the process.

A second term for Lourenço would cement the progress made to date. He is unlikely to drastically depart from his reform agenda, even as macroeconomic pressure eases. Maintaining good foreign relations and easing the overall risk of doing business are integral to increasing non-oil revenue and drawing in the skills and expertise of the private sector across the board.

Political protests appear to have picked up in the past six months. Is the run-up to the elections expected to bring higher-than-average levels of violence?

Political protests have certainly picked up, primarily driven by the FPU, but this is not necessarily out of the ordinary. Election years are often marked by political protests, and as voting draws closer, the media begins to report on them more frequently, distorting our view of their frequency.

Having said that, levels of popular frustration in Angola are certainly higher than they have been in recent years and, stoked by political rallies, are almost certain to translate into more frequent civil unrest. In such cases, businesses and commercial operations are rarely targeted, as the focus of popular frustration is the ruling government. However, the security forces often take a heavy-handed response towards protests and demonstrations, and this can disrupt key travel routes in and around cities, and pose incidental threats to personnel. We advise caution, not only in the run-up to the elections, but in the weeks after it, as opposition parties could continue to drive protests in the likely event of an MPLA win.

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