Luanda- The likely next president of Angola, Joao Lourenco, is a ruling-party loyalist and a former general who endured several years out of favour after he angled for the top job in the 1990s.Since then, Lourenco, 63, has convinced key regime players he is the right man to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the oil-rich southwest African nation for 38 years.Currently defence minister and deputy president of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Lourenco is firmly "part of the inner circle of power", according to Didier Peclard, an Angola specialist at the University of Geneva.In February, Dos Santos named Lourenco the party's presidential candidate for the general election to be held on Wednesday.Lourenco previously failed to hide his desire to succeed Dos Santos when the president hinted in the 1990s that he might step down.Dos Santos and his closest aides believed that the former general was being opportunistic -- and Lourenco was forced into several years of "political purgatory", according to Peclard.Dos Santos's apparent flirtation with resignation was merely "a political manoeuvre to bring those in the party with ambitions out of the woodwork, and Joao Lourenco paid the price," he said.As a young man, Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco fought against Portugal's rule of Angola and in the civil war that erupted between the MPLA government and UNITA rebels after independence in 1975.Like Dos Santos, he was a student in the former Soviet Union, which trained a number of rising young African leaders during decolonisation.Lourenco became political chief of the armed wing of the MPLA in the civil war -- a Cold War proxy conflict involving Cuban forces and CIA-backed militias. 'Hardline MPLA general' In 1984, he was appointed governor of the eastern province of Moxico, Angola's largest, quickly rising through the MPLA hierarchy. The ex-artillery general later led his party's group in parliament before becoming deputy speaker of the National Assembly.His appointment as defence minister in 2014 secured his position as favoured successor to Dos Santos.His main challenge in office may be Angola's shift to free market capitalism at a time when volatile oil prices are taking a heavy toll on the crude-dependent economy.Lourenco "has a reasonable reputation as a moderate, not an extreme character," said Soren Kirk Jensen of the Chatham House research group in London."He is probably the right person to be the bridge as Angola goes through a transition."Rumours abound that Dos Santos had hoped to hand over the reins of power to one of his children, who include Isabel dos Santos - Africa's first billionaire woman according to Forbes magazine.But Jensen said, "There is speculation that high-ranked people in the party put their foot down against this."The few vocal opponents of Dos Santos's all-powerful regime hold little hope that Lourenco offers a new chapter for Angola.Activist and journalist Rafael Marques, a leading regime critic, said that Lourenco was at heart "a hardline MPLA general".Former political prisoner Nuno Alvaro Dala said that under Lourenco "power in Angola will continue to be militarised".Lourenco was born on March 5, 1954, in Lobito in west Angola, and is married to a former employee of the World Bank.