Doubts on Angola Vote-Counting

The Times,
November 6, 1992

Sir: The arrangements for voting at the recent elections in Angola (reports, October 5, 6), including counting at the polling stations, went very well for the most part. A group of members of Western European parliaments put out a statement to that effect two days after voting ended when they gathered in Luanda to fly home.

I, who was also an international observer, invited by the National Electoral Council, agreed with their statement and said so on Angola television a few days later.

However, the communication of polling station results to municipal headquarters, then to provincial headquarters and finally via the Ministry of Security to the National Electoral Council, very seriously lacked close United Nations supervision.

Irregularities with recording and tabulating of results and of misplaced ballot papers make it very difficult to discover the extent of violations committed. But they were clearly many if one tries to compare some of the strange voting percentages which have emerged.

Apart from this, the government-controlled National Electoral Council delayed the process of electoral registration for months, and then suddenly cut it off on August 10, in spite of protests by the United States, Russia and Portugal. As a result some 500,000 potential electors in rural areas, where UNITA predominates, were left off the rolls. It also appears that at least 100 polling stations were set up without the knowledge of opposition parties.

The transition of Angola from war (which was fought by surrogates of the two superpowers) to peace is on the verge of collapse because of inadequate supervision of the whole of the electoral process to the end of counting.

This contrasts with the change from equally destructive war in Zimbabwe to peace in 1980. There, ten weeks after the ceasefire and the movement of guerrillas to camps, an election was held. The result was accepted by all parties.

It cost the British government a lot of money, but if that election had not been supervised in close detail by a team (of which I was a member) there would have been allegations similar to those in Angola now, and fighting would have broken out once more.

A UN commission should investigate the allegations now. Any recommendation for another, better prepared and supervised, election to be held as soon as the rains have finished may prove expensive. But it will be cheap at the price for settling into position a government of a potentially very prosperous country in Africa.

This may be the only way of doing it without the division of Angola into more than one country.

Yours faithfully,

John Matthew