Election worries brew in Angola
Luanda - A fierce political row is brewing in Angola where opposition parties accuse the ruling MPLA of exerting too much influence over the organisation of the country's upcoming general election.
On Wednesday, opposition lawmakers walked out of the National Assembly over the parliament's decision to ratify the re-appointment of Suzanna Ingles as the head of the country's National Electoral Commission (CNE).
This follows a formal bid against re-appointment, which the main opposition party Unita has submitted to the Constitutional Court.
"The rules are clear: They say the head of the CNE must be a judicial magistrate, she is not, and that it must be someone who is independent, and she is a member of the MPLA women's organisation," Unita president Isiais Samakuva told AFP.
"This decision is violating the law and is a clear sign that there is no respect for the law, that people are willing to violate the law. In other words, people are not going to organise elections in a way to be transparent and in a way to be fair," he said.
Bloco Democratico, a smaller opposition party with no seats in parliament, has also raised concerns about Ingles' appointment and suggested her close relationships with those in power affected the credibility of the electoral process.
Samakuva warned that his party would protest against the election - expected around September - until the processes were "clear and transparent".
Climate of instability
"I am not talking about boycotting, but about making sure this election happens in a fair and transparent way and if necessary, we will put people into streets to demand this," he said.
The MPLA insists it has acted correctly and that the decision to re-appoint Ingles (CNE president since September 2010) was taken by the country's High Council of Judiciary.
Virgilio Fontes Pereira, the MPLA's parliamentary leader, said the criticism showed that "some opposition forces were determined to create a climate of instability and suspicion around the electoral process".
Like all judicial organs, the council is officially independent of political influence, although under the country's 2010 constitution, its members are personally appointed by Angola's president of 32 years, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
In a statement announcing the choice of Ingles to run the CNE, Andre da Silva Neto, president of the jury, emphasised her experience as the existing president of the commission was essential as elections are due in less than a year.
Privately, several CNE staff members were said to be surprised at Ingles' reappointment, following months of delayed salaries and management tensions within the organisation.
The Ingles row comes after protracted delays in passing a new electoral law left the initial preparations and voter registration under the control of Angola's Ministry for Territorial Administration.
The legislation, which was finally agreed on in December, re-allocates all responsibilities to the CNE, but there are claims that the MPLA has had unfair access to voter registration data and logistical information, something the party has denied.
This election will be only the third in Angola's history since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975.
The first election was in 1992, although it was never completed because the civil war re-ignited, and the second was in 2008, six years after the end of the conflict.
The MPLA won by over 81% and has used its commanding parliamentary majority to pass a raft of new laws including a new constitution, which has abolished direct presidential elections.
The head of state will be chosen from the top of the winning party list in this year's polls, expected to easily hand Dos Santos another term in power.