Angola may have to return to polls

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AFTER NEARLY sparking a resumption of Angola's 16-year civil war, in the end the first general elections last month solved little, and the country is going to have to do it all over again.

Results to be announced this morning by the National Electoral Council show President Jose Eduardo dos Santos beating the former rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, by 49.5 to 40.7 per cent, which, because neither candidate won 50 per cent, means there might be a run-off presidential election. In the legislative elections, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) defeated Mr Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) by a wide margin.

Both sides have accepted the results of the 29-30 September elections. Despite Mr Savimbi's claims that the MPLA had rigged the vote, painstaking investigations showed that although there were many irregularities and mistakes, there was no evidence of widespread fraud.

The South African Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, on a mediation mission to avert a return to civil war, said yesterday that a peace summit between the rival leaders would take place 'between now and Monday'. Speaking to reporters after meeting President dos Santos, Mr Botha said he had been in constant contact through the day with Mr Savimbi. He said both the MPLA government and Unita had assured him they were not interested in resuming their civil war.

The main issues to be negotiated are if and when to hold a second round of presidential elections and how to rule the country in the meantime. Mr Botha and some Western countries believed a transitional power-sharing arrangement was likely, but they questioned what role Mr Savimbi could play. Unita was expected to demand that Mr Savimbi share a joint presidency with Mr dos Santos, but there was strong opposition to that notion in the MPLA.

The role of the United Nations in overseeing new elections is another key issue. There is a growing consensus among Western countries that if a second round is held, the UN must have much greater control over the process. 'The problem with the first round was that the international community wanted to do it on the cheap, and the Angolan government insisted on sovereignty,' said one Western ambassador.

The government controlled the election, while the international community, led by the UN and the European Community, provided 800 observers, 40 helicopters, six fixed-wing aircraft and voting equipment. It was not enough properly to monitor the vote, marred by Unita's claims of fraud.

The 16-month peace process has provided this country of 10 million people with a roller- coaster ride of emotions, from the joy of a ceasefire and first elections to fears of renewed fighting.