Lasting power: Angola's ruling party maintains its reign

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Angola will see little, if any, change with the outcome of Friday's legislative elections. The victory by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which has governed the country since independence in 1975, means that the party's leader, Eduardo dos Santos, will keep the presidency he has held since 1979.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the MPLA was supported by the Soviet Union, with Cuban troops stationed in Angola, in a long battle with two other armed parties backed by the United States along with then Zaire and South Africa. The MPLA emerged on top and its leaders have since reaped huge financial rewards from Angola's offshore oil production while the majority of its 19 million people continue to live in poverty. At one point, in a piece of supreme irony, Cuban troops were protecting Angolan oil installations being operated by a U.S. company.

On Friday the MPLA won by a huge margin, 72 percent of the votes, over two other parties. It might claim these were free and fair elections, but they were scarcely either. Intimidation, control of the media and full jurisdiction over the electoral procedure played a large role in the MPLA victory. The Angolan constitution is written so that the party that wins control of the legislature chooses the president; it does not provide for separate elections of the president and the legislature.

Mr. dos Santos, now 70, is an engineer by training. He has not been a dynamic leader of Angola, although he must be respected for his staying power in a political environment characterized by violence.

Through the MPLA victory Mr. dos Santos continues among a list of African presidents who have ruled their countries for decades and enriched themselves accordingly. These include Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Yoweri K. Museveni of Uganda and Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The leaders have averaged 29 years in power.

Angola is important to the United States as sub-Saharan Africa's second largest oil producer and it is the ninth largest source of America's oil imports. Naturally, Angola maintains expensive lobbyists in Washington to see that its interests are represented there.



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