President José Eduardo dos Santos, one of the world’s longest serving leaders, has been in power since 1979. Under his leadership, the president and his party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), have successfully consolidated power. In 2010 the MPLA used its two-thirds parliamentary majority to approve a new constitution, which further concentrated power in the hands of the president.
On 21 January 2010, Angola’s parliament passed the constitution with 186 votes in the 220-seat parliament. The main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), boycotted the final vote, accusing the government of trying to destroy democracy. The new constitution was drafted by a group of parliamentarians, following advice by experts and a public consultation period, but UNITA claimed the process was flawed because the vast majority of the drafters were from the MPLA. The MPLA had won a large majority in the 2008 parliamentary elections. The final text, currently in force, was promulgated by president Dos Santos on 5 February 2010.
The 2010 constitution replaced the 1992 constitution, which defined Angola as multiparty democracy based on a semi-presidential (president-parliamentary) system. The 2010 constitution abolishes the direct election of the president and the post of prime minister. Instead the person that heads the list of the party that gains the most votes in the parliamentary proportional representation election automatically becomes president. The president is empowered to appoint a vice-president to assist with governance. Although parliament can call for the president to be removed from office such a motion must be referred to the Supreme Court, whose members – along with all other courts – are appointed by the president.
With the 2010 constitution and the de facto attempt to circumvent parliament’s ability to check and audit the executive, the president has consolidated his grip on Angola’s politics. In the 2012 parliamentary elections the MPLA won 71 per cent of the vote (down from 82 per cent in 2008) and 175 seats in the 220-seat national assembly. On 26 September 2012 President Dos Santos was formally installed as head of state.
The Angolan parliament as a law-making body is practically dormant. According to the 2013 Freedom House report, 90 per cent of all legislation originates in the executive branch. Since January 2013 the president has issued 112 presidential decrees. Moreover, the parliament’s other function, namely to control the executive branch has been further curtailed. In October this year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Law 13/12 of 2 May 2013, which allows parliament to scrutinize the executive is unconstitutional. According to the Court’s ruling, the constitution does not grant the National Assembly the power to raise questions and inquire into the acts of government, nor does it have the right to call upon the ministers, ask them questions or hold hearings.
Despite the MPLA’s electoral success, tensions are rising in Angola. Inspired by the Arab Spring, a series of non-violent youth protests have called for the president to step down. Strengthened by youth protests, war veterans have protested against the long overdue payment of pensions. Opposition parties, which were initially cautious in voicing their support for the demands of the protesters, now openly call on the president to resign.
In the heightened political atmosphere, the succession of the president, long a taboo issue, has started to be openly discussed. The president favours Manuel Vicente, former CEO of state oil company Sonangol. Following his 2012 election victory, the president appointed Vicente to vice-presidency. Yet, a handover to Vicente is unlikely to appease protesters or the opposition, and will exacerbate rifts within the MPLA.