Page last updated at 19:11 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 20:11 UK

Angolan elections promise change

Angolans queue to vote in Luanda, 5 September 2008
In parts of the capital voting was poorly organised and some polls opened late

By Peter Biles
BBC News, Luanda

There was an air of anticipation over the Angolan capital, Luanda, as the early morning queues of voters began to form outside the city's polling stations.

Angolans have waited 16 years for these elections, and for the younger generation, this was a new experience.

To the frustration of some voters however, many polling stations failed to open on time. One of the smaller ones in the centre of Luanda looked deserted, and it seemed as though voting materials had not been delivered in advance.

Reports from the narrow strip of land that runs around the other side of Luanda's spectacular bay, indicated that only one of five polling stations had opened at 7am.

Increasingly, people are saying - I am an Angolan, and I want a piece of the cake

Jardo Muekalia
Unita election coordinator

Luisa Morgantini, the head of the European Union's election observer mission, said the early disorganisation on polling day had caught her by surprise, especially as she had been impressed by the government's voter education schemes in advance of the elections.

But by lunchtime, the initial concerns had eased. Ms Morgantini said she felt more positive, as she had received reports of a strong voter turnout, and she thought the election was going well across the country.

Former enemies

In the early afternoon, voting was noticeably brisker, as election officers guided people through the process.

Voters were instructed how to fold their ballot papers, and then after casting their votes, each one was asked to dip a finger in indelible ink.

An old Angolan woman casts her vote in the popular distric of Samba, 5 September 2008
The president has already been in power for nearly 30 years

Across Luanda, the flags of the two main rivals - the governing MPLA party and the Unita opposition - have made a colourful spectacle in the run-up to polling day.

It is not forgotten that the MPLA and Unita were bitter enemies on the battlefield for 27 years, but now their respective flags fly in the streets, just metres apart.

This week, MPLA supporters on the way home from a party rally were merely goaded with good-humoured taunts by a group of Unita youths whom they passed on the road.

After voting today, Luanda resident, Jorge Santos, described the election as "a unique moment" that could bring important change.

"It's a big step, and we're a young country… we've only had six years of peace… It's as though we're still a baby", he said.

The MPLA is seeking a two-thirds majority in this election, which will give the party the power to change the constitution.

"Everything indicates we will have a massive victory", says Fragata De Morais, the MPLA's Information Secretary.

"That's what we need otherwise we can't put forward our programme for the next 25 years".

The MPLA remains the dominant force in Angola, although Unita officials argue that the ruling party has failed the country, in spite of the oil wealth that has been generated.

"We are one of the wealthiest countries, but still with some of the poorest people", says Unita's election coordinator, Jardo Muekalia.

"Increasingly, people are saying: 'I am an Angolan, and I want a piece of the cake'".

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