Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos announced on Thursday that he would not stand as a candidate in the next presidential election. Addressing the central committee of the ruling MPLA party in Luanda, Dos Santos said the party should prepare to find a candidate for the next electoral contest, which he said could take place in 2002 or 2003. “It is clear that the name of that candidate will not be Jose Eduardo dos Santos,” he said.
Dos Santos is among Africa’s longest-serving leaders, having assumed the presidency on the death of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s founding president, in 1979. He said that were it not for the crisis caused by the 26-year civil war, he would have tendered his resignation a long time ago.
Angola’s first and only multi-party elections took place in 1992. UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi took up arms again after losing the parliamentary vote, and coming second to Dos Santos in the first round of presidential voting. The run-off between Dos Santos and Savimbi never happened, and the state of war since then has prevented any further election.
Dos Santos began his address to the party on Thursday with an optimistic view of the military and economic situation in Angola but admitted there were “serious and difficult problems to resolve” in the country. He said that holding an election would require the establishment of municipal administration and ensuring freedom of movement.
Independent observers suggest that this could take much longer than the one or two years suggested by Dos Santos - with the consequence that if his departure is pegged to elections, the president could remain in office for some years yet.
A US State Department fact-finding team last week concluded its mission intended to assess what had to be done before free and fair elections could be held in Angola. The head of that delegation, David Kramer, spoke of a “clear disconnect” between the government’s talk of holding elections in 2002, and achieving the conditions which the government itself regarded as necessary for an election.
Observers are divided on the issue of how big a role Dos Santos will play in determining his successor. Some say that Dos Santos favours MPLA secretary-general João Lourenço. It seems certain, though, that an MPLA candidate for the presidency, when elections do eventually happen, will be from the current main stream of the party.
Angolan political analyst Vincente Pinto de Andrade said it was time for the Angolan political establishment to make way for a new generation of leaders. “Both Dos Santos and Savimbi should withdraw in order to close the political circle that the country has been living to date and allow the Angolan nation and the political leaders and parties to start a new political circle,” he said.
Carlos Morgado, a UNITA spokesman close to Savimbi, rejected the suggestion that the rebel leader should follow Dos Santos’s lead by standing down, saying that Dos Santos was “backing away” from problems that were of his own making.
But Jaka Jamba, a respected figure on UNITA’s parliamentary bench, expressed similar views to Pinto de Andrade: “Everything is changing in all the political parties and there is an increasing demand for a change in the leadership,” Jamba said. But he added: “It is possible that this is an opportunity [for Dos Santos] to test his and his party’s popularity among voters.”