Angolans vote in booths armed with iPads

2012-08-31 19:00
 man casts his ballot at a voting station in Kicolo, Luanda, Angola. (AP)

man casts his ballot at a voting station in Kicolo, Luanda, Angola. (AP)

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Luanda - Descending from a rapidly eroding hillside, overlooking Luanda's port and its glamorous new waterfront, voters awoke before dawn to cast ballots in Angola's third elections since independence in 1975.

Their shacks have no electricity, no water and almost no land. Those on top of the hill cling precariously to their perch.

The debris of less fortunate homes, washed down during rainstorms, litters the slope and sometimes the potholed road running past one of Africa's busiest ports.

When they cross the road to the technical college in their Boa Vista district, volunteers from the National Electoral Commission greet them with iPads and tiny printers like credit card machines, scanning their voter registration cards and printing a slip to direct them to one of the 14 booths.

Important

Antonia Viana Gama, 58, has voted in all three of Angola's elections - including the 1992 poll held during a lull in the civil war and the first peacetime vote in 2008.

"I came to vote because it's important for our country to have peace," she said.

Gama vaguely remembers a few years of peace as a girl. The liberation war against Portugal began when she was about seven, spiralling into a civil war that lasted until 2002.

But Angola is a young country where the median age is under 18. Young voters like Emmanuel Mpulenga, 23, had little direct experience of war and are more concerned with finding a life outside of Luanda's sprawling shantytowns.

"I came here to vote because I want to see some change in our country," said the jobless Mpulenga, who left school after 10th grade and has not found regular work since.

Changing

Just a few kilometres down the road, which at times degenerates into sand or muddy potholes the size of small ponds, Luanda transforms into the new $378m Marginal waterfront, with a neatly paved 10-lane avenue running alongside a well-lit boardwalk.

Across from Luanda Bay, dazzling new skyscrapers rise out of the city's chaos, with even modest apartments costing at least $10 000 a month.

The glaring divide between Boa Vista and the Marginal has sparked street protests since March last year, with groups of young people denouncing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and demanding that the nation's oil wealth be used to improve their daily lives.

Police have violently repressed the protests, but the movement has heightened awareness of the social divide and forced all the main parties to focus more on issues like jobs and housing.

"I am here to vote to make some change, because I want some change for the country," said David Mongo, 37, at a polling station near downtown Luanda.

"In 2008, I voted for one party. This time I will change," he said.

Voting woes

Across Luanda, voting began slowly with a few dozen people seen waiting in line as polling stations opened at 06:00. Voting started as much as an hour late at some stations.

At others voters grew impatient waiting as elections officials and observers were allowed to cast the first ballots, forcing the general public to wait.

And observers from Dos Santos's ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) looked on in bright yellow T-shirts and caps, although observers were supposed to wear a neutral white.

Despite the high-tech gloss, voters complained that printed lists of registered voters were not on hand when they went to collect ballots.

"The polling station opened an hour late and without the voters list, but I was able to vote anyway," said Telmo Albano, 42, leaving a downtown polling station.

Read more on:    jose eduardo dos santos  |  angola  |  southern africa
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