March 29, 2007

Government grip on electoral process too tight, says SADC team

A team of parliamentarians from the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) has expressed concern about the extent of political and ministerial control in Angola's electoral process. The 21-member delegation visited the country to observe the registration of voters and the prospects for holding legislative elections in 2008, followed by a presidential ballot in 2009.
"The registration process is starting on a good note and has been given the thumbs-up by civil society, non-governmental organisations and the church groups," said Gobopang Duke Lefhoko, a Botswana Member of Parliament and mission leader of the SADC team. However, he criticised the fact that the electoral process, including registration, was being managed by a ministry. "We prefer that independent electoral management bodies should be charged with such responsibility."
According to an Interim Report by the SADC team, the ministry of territorial administration (MAT) is in charge of all the logistics for the preparation and organisation of elections in Angola. MAT works with the Inter-ministerial Commission for Elections (CIPPE), which comprises MAT and two other ministries: those of the interior, and posts and tele­communications. The National Electoral Commission (CNE) is supervising registration and managing the entire electoral process.
The SADC-PF team expressed unease about the 11 members of the CNE because nearly every member is a senior political actor. According to Lefhoko, the CNE in Angola is far from ideal and a national electoral commission should not involve any political actors at all.
Three CNE members are from the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA); two are from the second largest party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA); one is from the third largest party, the Party for Social Renewal (PRS); two more are chosen and appointed by Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos; two others are from MAT and the ministry of social communication; and the final member, who is also the chair, is chosen by the courts, in this case the Vice-President of the Supreme Court.
"It's a huge concern when it comes to the SADC-PF norms and standards, because [the CNE] gives a clear bias to the incumbency in this case, and a couple of other parties that might be holding more seats in parliament," Lefhoko said. Parties with a smaller number of parliamentary seats are not represented in the electoral commission. "Right from the process of registration, the management of everything electoral should be done by an independent body," Lefhoko commented.
However, Angola's vice-minister of territorial administration, Luís de Assunção Pedro da Mota Liz, said that while the system might not be perfect, it was impartial. "First of all, you need to understand that MAT [ministry of territorial administration] is part of CIPPE [Inter-ministerial Commission for Elections]. The ministry [of territorial administration] does not have control over CNE or CIPPE. It is the other way around: they control the ministry," he said. "Regarding the composition of the CNE, my own personal opinion is that it is a bit cumbersome; there are too many members, if you include those at provincial and municipal level. However, it is impartial. The people who make up the 11-member CNE were chosen for their impartiality. And, don't forget, we had to make it a consensual body to help create trust and to guarantee credibility. That's why we've included all the political parties," he added.
What matters most at the next elections is that the Angolan people learn to trust the electoral process, said Mota Liz. In 1992, the first and last time multiparty elections were held, the polling process was never completed because war broke out halfway through the presidential election. According to him, complaints about the judge are based on a small group of radical people: "There are those who think the judge should stop working while he is on the CNE, because they think that could make him partial. But the CNE is not a full-time job and, anyway, the Supreme Court doesn't have many judges, so they need him to keep working. Moreover, being a judge is in itself a position of impartiality."
The SADC team recommended that the Angolan government seriously consider separating the powers of the state, the government and the party "to avoid conflict of interest in resolving electoral disputes". In future, the Angolan government should consider using a single independent body to enhance transparency and avoid the confusion that exists in the current arrangement, in which both the ministry of territorial administration and the electoral commission are involved. The SADC report also advised the government to publish an election date as soon as possible. "Angola is still in the group of countries where the election date is announced by the head of state at a convenient time; this is not in line with the Forum Norms and Standards for Elections in the SADC region. Keeping the date of elections a secret is not a good practice - it is alleged to disadvantage opposition political parties." (Rts)

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