MPLA secures Angola poll win as Lourenco set for power

Luanda (AFP) - The election victory of Angola's ruling MPLA party was confirmed Friday despite angry complaints from opposition parties, as almost all votes were counted and poll observers backed the outcome.

Joao Lourenco, candidate for the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), is set to succeed veteran President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos as head of the oil-rich country.

Dos Santos, who is reportedly in poor health, announced his surprise retirement earlier this year, signalling the end of his 38-year reign.

The MPLA, which has ruled since Angola's hard-fought independence from Portugal in 1975, won 61.1 percent of the vote, according to the official count.

With 97 percent of the ballots counted, the two main opposition parties, UNITA and Casa-CE, took 26.7 percent and 9.4 percent respectively.

Despite the clear victory, MPLA support dropped sharply since the previous election in 2012 as the country suffers an economic crisis triggered by the fall in oil prices.

Dos Santos, a secretive and much criticised leader, hand-picked veteran party loyalist Lourenco, 63, as his successor.

Lourenco, until recently defence minister, has vowed to boost foreign investment and said he wants to be recognised as a leader who brought an "economic miracle" to the southern African country.

- Disputed results -

He is expected to formally assume power next month.

A regional election observer group gave the vote a clean bill of health.

"The elections have been held in a free, honest and peaceful atmosphere," Augustine Mahiga, head of the observer mission for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), told reporters.

But Mahiga called for measures to "ensure that state resources and public media are not used for the benefit of a single party" -- a direct criticism of the MPLA's conduct during the election.

The opposition coalition Casa-CE deputy president Andre Mendes de Carvalho complained that its representative had not had access to the results, as per regulations.

"When the law is broken then the results hold no value," he told reporters on Friday.

"What?s certain is that we won?t be deceived. We want to say it loud and clear, nobody can break the law," he said.

As soon as the first results were announced on Thursday, UNITA and Casa-CE alleged that the voting process had been flawed.

Claudio Silva, a UNITA representative, said the count was "an act that violates the law" while Miguel Michel of Casa-CE said he "didn't recognise" the results that had been published.

Opposition leaders earlier complained they were deprived of media access and that voters in opposition strongholds were forced to cast their ballots at polling stations far from their homes.

The MPLA's opponents had hoped to tap into public anger over inflation that peaked at more than 40 percent last year, as well as low growth and high unemployment.

- Closed society -

Despite being rich in oil and diamonds, Angola remains one of the poorest countries in the world and one of the most closed societies on the African continent.

The result "will politically strengthen president-elect Joao Lourenco," Alex Vines, of the Chatham House think-tank in London, told AFP.

"Angola's economy is in crisis and he needed a strong mandate to deal with it."

Dos Santos's long reign saw the end of Angola's bloody civil war between 1975 and 2002 and a post-conflict investment boom as the country exploited its oil reserves.

But the slump in crude prices in 2014 hit the country hard.

Dos Santos's regular visits to Spain for "private" reasons fuelled criticism that the state of his health was being hidden from ordinary Angolans.

Earlier this year, his daughter Isabel -- who has become a billionaire and Africa's richest businesswoman under his rule -- was forced to deny rumours that he had died in Spain.

Amnesty International called for Lourenco to "guide the country out of the spiral of oppression" and castigated Dos Santos's "appalling human rights record".

Dos Santos is to remain MPLA party chief, and new laws passed last month limited the unfettered presidential power he enjoyed.