Angolan election commission says ruling party has big lead

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Angola's ruling party has a large lead over the main opposition with votes from nearly two-thirds of polling stations counted, the election commission said Thursday, opening the way for Defense Minister Joao Lourenco to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos after his 38-year rule.

The announcement followed a day of conflicting claims by the rival parties, which fought each other in a long civil war in the southern African nation that ended in 2002.

Provisional tallies showed the ruling MPLA party with 64 percent with nearly 6 million ballots counted from Wednesday's vote, while the UNITA opposition party had 24 percent and a smaller opposition group, CASA-CE, had 8 percent, election commission spokeswoman Julia Ferreira said on live television.

The MPLA earlier Thursday claimed victory, saying partial results from its own tally indicated it had won a majority. UNITA disputed that claim.

The MPLA made its claim after reviewing data relayed by its delegates from polling stations nationwide, said Joao Martins, a senior official at the party's headquarters in Luanda, the capital, according to the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

About 9.3 million Angolans were registered to vote for the 220-member National Assembly; the winning party then selects the president.

UNITA said its own partial tally indicated it was trailing the ruling party by only 7 percent. UNITA said it had 40 percent of two million votes in its count, compared to 47 percent for the MPLA, whose Portuguese acronym means Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

UNITA, or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, has said it would be willing to form a coalition with other opposition groups in order to govern.

Election officials said the vote went smoothly despite minor problems and delays.

Lourenco, 63, is a former governor who fought in the war against Portuguese colonial rule as well as the long civil war that ended in 2002.

He has pledged to fight graft and is seen as a symbol of stability and even incremental change. Oil-rich Angola is beset by widespread poverty, corruption and human rights concerns, though some analysts believe new leadership could slowly open the way to more accountability.

Critics, however, point to entrenched patronage networks benefiting an elite that includes Isabel dos Santos, the president's daughter and head of the state oil company Sonangol, and Jose Filomeno dos Santos, a son in charge of the country's sovereign wealth fund.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, is expected to remain ruling party leader, though there are concerns about his health since he received medical treatment in Spain this year. He took power in 1979.

Angolan rights activists have alleged that the MPLA unfairly used state machinery ahead of the election, noting that most media coverage focused on the MPLA's campaign. Opposition parties said there were irregularities ahead of the voting.

Election observers from other African countries monitored the vote, but the European Union did not send a full-fledged observer mission because it said the Angolan government wanted to impose restrictions, including limited access to polling stations around the country.

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