Ballot counting has begun in Angola on after polls closed in what was widely seen as the most competitive vote in the country’s democratic history, with incumbent President Joao Lourenco squaring up against charismatic opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior.
The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has ruled the oil-rich nation for nearly five decades, faced its most serious challenge since the first multiparty vote in 1992.
Eight political parties were running, but the main contest lay between the MPLA and its long-standing rival and ex-rebel movement the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
Pre-voting opinion polls suggested that support for the MPLA – which won 61 percent of the vote in 2017 elections – would dwindle, while the UNITA – which has entered an electoral pact with two other parties – would make gains.
Angola is Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, but as with many poor nations sitting on oil wealth, decades of pumping billions of barrels of crude has done little for most except to increase the cost of living.
Half of Angolans live in poverty and more than half of under-25s are unemployed.
President Lourenco, who was seeking re-election, urged voters after casting his ballot on Wednesday at Lusiada University in Luanda to go out and do the same.
“In the end, we will all win, democracy wins and Angola wins,” Lourenco told reporters.
Some 14.7 million people were registered to vote at 13,200 polling stations across the vast southern African nation.
Angolans living overseas were for the first time able to cast ballots from abroad.
Results are expected within a few days. In past elections, results have been contested, a process that can take several weeks.