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Page last updated at 00:36 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 01:36 UK

Angola hopes for peaceful poll

By Louise Redvers
BBC News, Luanda

Men, women, children, pensioners and even goats - everyone is getting involved in Angola's election campaigning.

Goat wearing a MPLA scarf
Luanda and all its inhabitants are dressed in election regalia

Every street in the capital Luanda is decked out in flags and posters of slogans and leaders are pasted to every wall.

Banners are stuck to cars and every few minutes, lines of minibus taxis go blaring down the street with teenagers leaning from windows, chanting party slogans.

All over the capital, small gatherings of supporters gather for street barbecues and beer, while in parks and stadiums there are organised concerts with top Angolan acts.

This is the country's first poll in 16 years.

War-weary

The last election in 1992 sparked a second phase of the 27-year civil war which didn't finish until the death of the former Unita (Union for the Total Independence of Angola) leader, Jonas Savimbi in 2002.

Understandably there were some nerves a new political contest would end in more bloodshed, locally from the war-weary population, and internationally from the oil companies who are helping to pump two million barrels of oil a day from the country's deepwater reservoirs.

Angolan voters give their views on the landmark elections

But so far, apart from a few scuffles, the campaign has been without major incident.

And politicians from all sides, including the president of 29 years, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, have made public appeals for calm.

The ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) is expected to hold onto its parliamentary majority.

But Unita is expected to do well, particularly in peri-urban parts of Luanda which sprang up during the war when people fled the countryside and where people still lack basic amenities such as electricity and pumped water.

"I'm voting because it's very important," said shop-worker Adriano Pascoal, 27.

"We need better education, more jobs and better healthcare and that's why I'm voting for Unita."

Watching carefully

Unita's slogan is "mudanca" or change. The MPLA on the other hand wants people to stick with the "camino seguro" - safe road, and keep the ruling party in power.

Unita women choir
The election campaign has been without major incident

"I don't think it's the right time to change the government because they have good programmes and if you changed now, things would stop," says Erivaldo Amaro, 30, who works for an oil company.

But beneath these slogans and the colourful branding of each party, few have been discussing hard and fast policies with the electorate.

Observer missions from the European Union, the South African Development Community (SADC), the United States and the Community of Portuguese Language Speaking Authorities have all come to Angola to witness the election and check no fraud is taking place.

The business world will also be watching Angola carefully.

Earlier this year it overtook Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa's largest oil producer and with its diamond exports, it is becoming a key player in the developing world.

Chasm

Despite this economic success however, 70% of the population still survives on less than $2 a day.

Angolan child stands in the backyard of a destroyed house
Most Angolans survive on less than $2 a day

The MPLA has hit back at international criticism, saying it is doing its best to rebuild the country after so long at war and claims census figures are out of date and give the wrong impression about the country.

But the obvious chasm between rich and poor shiny shopping centres next to sprawling slums and beggars sitting outside BMW dealerships has attracted much criticism from groups such as Human Rights Watch who have accused the government of pocketing billions of oil funds.

Government officials and oil executives have denied these allegations and say poor accounting during the war years was to blame for the "missing money".

Six years after peace, the country is starting to open up to international investment particularly from China, Brazil and Portugal - and it is hoping to launch its own stock exchange in early 2009.

Election of process

Luanda and other cities such as Huambo, Benguela and Lubango are being transformed with new apartments and posh new hotels.

Thousands of educated Angolans who fled during the war are coming home, bringing back their skills and families to begin a new era in the former Portuguese colony.

MPLA and Unita flags hanging in a tree
Angola has experienced peace for six years now

Much of the city regeneration work is in preparation for Angola hosting the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) in 2010, but the country is hoping to build on this development, to complement its spectacular beaches and impressive parks to become a tourist destination in the long-term.

Friday's election is seen more as an election of process, a dummy run for next year's presidential poll, and a chance for Angola to show Africa and the rest of the world it can hold a peaceful election.

While there is no suggestion of organised vote rigging or planned ballot box intimidation, the state-controlled media and seemingly bottomless funding of the MPLA have prompted complaints from opposition groups and neutral observers.

Trepidation

And while Angola is certainly no Zimbabwe, western diplomats carefully avoid the term free and fair, when describing this election, favouring transparent and credible.

Polls open at 0700 [local time] on Friday morning but the results are not expected for up to 15 days.

There is a certain feeling of trepidation about the days after the vote ahead of the election, a worry that events of 16 years could repeat themselves.

But Unita's parliamentary spokesman, Jardo Muekalia said he was speaking for all Angolans when he said:

"The sun will rise just as it normally rises, we will wait for the results to be announced and we will simply continue to live our lives waiting for the next election."


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