FAST Update Angola: Semi-annual risk assessment Dec 2004 to May 2005


Risk Assessment:

The Country Stability index continued to fluctuate slightly at the same level as during the previous monitoring period, while the Conflictive Actions curve is marked by a sharp peak in December, followed by smaller peaks in March and May.

Country Stability was not affected by the worst outbreak of a Marburg epidemic worldwide, which according to the World Health Organization has claimed 356 deaths out of 422 reported cases. Apart from a few cases, since, the epidemic remained largely contained in the northern border province of Uige. Although the outbreak has peaked, caution remains required.

The monitoring period was marked by preparations of the electoral process. The legal framework and time schedule of the elections due in 2006 continue to await final definition, thus causing some concern. First, it remains open if parliamentary and presidential elections will eventually take place simultaneously or separately. President José Eduardo dos Santos had suggested in November 2004 that presidential elections take place 2007, one year after the parliamentary elections, and with the constitutional revision concluded by the newly elected Parliament. Second, as will be explained below, doubts are being raised whether elections will take place in 2006 at all.

The reason for this doubt is the delay in the promulgation of a critical electoral law, namely the Electoral Law which creates the National Electoral Commission (CNE) as the overseeing body of the electoral process including voters' registration. The main opposition parties, UNITA and civil society organizations had strongly advocated the creation of an Independent National Electoral Commission (CNEI) to oversee all phases of the electoral process. Yet, the Government of Angola (GoA) decided that the Inter-Ministerial Commission of Elections, created in December 2004 and coordinated by the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MAT) would organize the voter's registration, while the composition of the National Electoral Commission was to be decided upon in Parliament. Given MPLA majority in Parliament, this position was harshly criticized as anti-democratic by opposition parties.

The Electoral Law concerning the National Electoral Commission proved to be the most controversial in parliamentary debates from January to April. While agreement was reached on the other six laws (namely the laws on nationality, political parties, electoral observation, political parties funding, electoral registration and the code of electoral conduct), the seventh Electoral Law was passed on 26 April almost by the MPLA alone, against the majority of the opposition. According to the adopted law, the MPLA largely controls the 11-member National Electoral Commission (CNE), with two members to be indicated by the president, two by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and the Supreme Court, one by the National Media Council (yet to be created) and six by the Parliament (three from MPLA, two from UNITA and one from another opposition party).

However, after the president received the electoral laws on May 16, the legally established time limit of 30 days passed without promulgation. According to a last minute presidential communiqué on June 15, the Electoral Law was submitted to the Supreme Court, in order to clear doubts about the constitutionality of some of its sections, however without specifying the points in question. The Supreme Court has 45 days to decide on the matter, after which the electoral law might be returned to Parliament. At that time, however, parliamentary holidays may have begun, with regular sessions only reopening in December.

Resulting from this delay in the electoral laws' promulgation, the voters' registration, planned to take place during this year's dry season with an approved budget of 85 million USD, has yet to begin. Paulo Soma, official of the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MAT), declared at the end of May that the voters' registration might last into the rainy season. While Minister Fontes Pereira reassured that the process would be completed in 2005, and the president reaffirmed the 2006 date for elections, opposition parties are raising suspicions that the MPLA might be willfully holding up the elections.

While a delay of the elections may give the MPLA more time to consolidate its membership basis, especially in the provinces, and to produce visible progress in national reconstruction efforts, it could loose the opportunity to take advantage of its 50th birthday celebrations in December 2006 - for the expected media coverage alone, a golden opportunity for electoral campaigning.

Other outstanding laws concerning the elections include the law on access to public broadcasting, the law of reply, the law on the National Media Council and the press law. The media laws, in particular, might prove to be contentious, given hitherto existing blockages to the press law revision and the extension of Rádio Ecclésia's broadcasts to the provinces. UNITA and other opposition parties, as well as civil society organizations and churches, have strongly advocated an end to the de facto State monopoly on broadcasting in the provinces, as a necessary pre-condition for free and fair elections.

The GoA's media strategy in view of elections is being revealed only gradually. The Council of Ministers on March 9 approved a new media development strategy for 2006-2007. In May, the new media Minister, Rabelais, former director of the state-owned radio RNA, unexpectedly announced a new press bill. Yet, both decisions were taken without prior consultation nor publication of the documents. Journalist unions said they were worried that the press bill might ignore recommendations considered beforehand in the Technical Commission drawn up by the president in 2002. Meanwhile, confidence of journalist unions in the press law revision was partly restored, following a series of bilateral meetings.

While the revised press bill may allow new private media to emerge, the outcome of the Rádio Ecclésia blockage remains unclear. Concerns are also being raised on lack of transparency in license attributions for television and radio broadcasting. It may be recalled that the new private radio stations that emerged in the provinces shortly before Angola's first and only elections in 1992 were all linked to the MPLA. Reports from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) indicate that censorship within state-owned media is again being tightened leading to the elections.

One of the most basic pre-conditions for the elections, however, is providing an estimated 4 to 6 million potential Angolan voters with identity papers. While the Ministry of Justice started a nationwide free civil registration campaign in April, it has faced serious logistical constraints, however.

Onofre dos Santos, former director-general of the 1992 elections, commented that the opportunity had been missed to build democracy from below with local elections, instead of "starting to build a house by the roof". According to him, the next elections will be much more difficult than the previous, given the traumatic experience of the 1992 post-electoral civil war for many Angolans.

The credibility of the electoral process may at this early stage suffer from the imposition of the MPLA-dominated National Electoral Commission, adding up to the already intimate relationship between MPLA and the State - should the electoral law be promulgated by the president after its return from the Supreme Court. The credibility of the process now depends on the speedy setting of the legal framework and conclusion of the first phase of the civil and voters' registration processes. With significant delays in promulgating the electoral laws and creating the National Electoral Commission, confidence in the process and political stability might erode.

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