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Saturday, 3 January 2009

Is this the solution for competitive parties?

Angola this month will go through an interesting constitutional requirement, when the Constitutional Court (CC) extends the death certificate to all parties that failed to pass the 0.5 percent threshold in last September’s legislative vote. The measure does not apply to parties that did not run in the last election. The set up is designed to ensure that only viable parties remain and hopefully force other small parties into coalitions, therefore making the politics more competitive.

Angola has a unicameral parliament with a four year term. The National Assembly (Assembleia Nacional) has 223 seats elected by proportional representation; 130 members are elected from national lists, 3 members by Angolans living abroad and the 18 provinces each elect 5 members. As we discussed previously its
registration system is envy of many, not to mention the 30% rule..


  1. That is interesting, Angolans living abroad electing three members to parley? The selfish Zambian legislators would never allow that and yet Zambians abroad form quite a big constituency, really.

  2. I have asked Koluki
    to share some light on how the Angolan diapora achieved this!

    The key may be in the voting system - its PR so there's no need to attach themselves to a constituency.

    Imagine, we could have Hon Ndlovu of England South!!

  3. Cho, my friend, I'm sorry to disappoint, but the fact is the Angolan diaspora wasn't even allowed to register, let alone vote! Unless I am seriously, seriously misinformed, which I don't think I am...
    There are a number of dispositions on paper that in practice are pure and simply forgotten about - that's politics, isn't it? In the particular case of voter registration among the diaspora in the last legislatives, what the National Electoral Commission and other official bodies said was that technical conditions to do it were not yet met (check it here:
    There were a number of public protests, particularly by the diaspora in Portugal, but, as I said, there was no registration nor voting by the Angolan Diaspora.
    In general terms, the Angolan registration system might be the most sophisticated one in Africa and probably the worls, as some say, but the reality is it didn't work perfectly in the last elections.
    I have posted on my blog a comprehensive report by UNITA recently published, as well as the final report by the EU observing mission, which shed some light on the issue:

    As far as the extintion of parties with less than 0,5% of the vote, there was the interesting case of the FpD (Frente para a Democracia) which was predicted to come in 3rd place before the election but in the end came up in 10th place with less than the required 0,5% of votes to remain in existence. To avoid this, a couple of weeks after the results were announced and before they were officially extinct, they extinguished themselves and refounded with the same name, symbols, etc.
    Furthermore, the law allows any party that gets 'killed' by this rule to reapper under a different name, so there is no real compulsory incentive to force them into coalitions... In fact, the experience of political coalitions in Angola has been dismal since the 1992 elections. As an example, the FpD is part of what in 1992 was an apparently viable coalition (AD-Coligacao) but even in the face of the 2008 fiasco didn't take the coalition rule again...


  4. ...I meant the coalition route again.


  5. P.S.: I just came across this news that clearly states that the electoral registration of the diaspora will only take place for the first time this year:

  6. Koluki,

    Many thanks for shedding more light on this issue. As always on our continent, the reality is a lot more complicated.

    After your insight, I dug a little bit to find the EU report, but apparently no formal detailed report apart from the media...well none in English.

    In any case, I stumbled on this Institute of Strategic Studies Angola Situation Report it fully agrees with your assessment.

    On the diaspora it notes:

    "The Constitution determines that the National Assembly will have 223 seats, of which 130 would be allocated to national representation, 90 to representatives from the provinces, and three to representatives elected from the external vote of the Diaspora. An additional violation of the electoral law (Article 29/a, b, c of Law 6/05) was the decision to exclude the Angolan Diaspora from the voting process. This move was to impact particularly upon UNITA, many of whose members have lived in exile for several years or decided to leave the country after 2002."

    It goes on to conclude that the elections "failed to meet international standards".

    I have to admit that the impression I got from the SADC and other bodies was that the election was free and fair. It appears the MPLA government has succeeded in spinning the outcome...I was certainly conned!

  7. As I said, Cho, that's politics as we all know it. But to be fair, all observing missions said that, in spite of the observed irregularities, the results were acceptable.
    And I am not so sure that the majority of the diasporan vote would go to UNITA - there are plenty of Angolans abroad who vote MPLA and other parties.
    Sorry, I just realised that I missed the link to the EU report on my blog.
    You can find it here:

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Koluki,

    Many thanks for the link.
    I will dig into the report!

  9. Angola: Parliament Okays Nominal Composition of Constitutional Commission

    16 January 2009

    Luanda — The National Assembly (Parliament) unanimously approved on Friday by 182 votes in favour the nominal composition of the Constitutional Commission members, the body tasked with drafting the new Constitution of the country in the coming months.

    At the top of the composition are MPs of the ruling MPLA party, Bornito de Sousa and Ferreira Pinto, who respectively hold the posts of chairman and the first vice-president of the Commission.

    For its second vice president was elected UNITA MP, Almerindo Jaka Jamba, followed by a first secretary and two assistant secretaries.

    In total, the Commission has 45 members, with 35 of the ruling MPLA party, UNITA with six, PRS (two) and FNLA and New Democracy parties, with one each, as well as 15 alternates.

    According to the resolution on the composition, the Commission shall submit to the National Assembly on the forms of participation by other organs of State, political parties, civil society organisations and citizens in the drafting and discussion of the preliminary draft of the country's Constitution.

    The Law of creation of the Constitutional Commission, approved last 15 December, sets 75 days, from that date, so that the coalition and political parties represented in the Parliament submit proposals for drafts of the future Constitution, through a letter addressed to the speaker of National Assembly.

    The political parties without parliamentary seat, other State organs, civil society organizations and citizens in general can also submit their proposals within the same period, as well as during the phase of public consultation, whose form and timing will be decided by National Assembly.

    The organ is also assisted by a committee made up of technicians and experts appointed by the coalition of parties and parties represented in the National Assembly.

    Copyright © 2009 Angola Press Agency.

    45 members on the Angolan commission, as contrasted by the 484 members present for the Jan. 8th meeting of the NCC. Any bets as to which group finishes their work first?

  10. Yakima,

    Its an interesting model the Angolans have chosen.

    I suppose the NCC would say - their model allows better representation of views, and crucially, it gets round the perverse incentive of Parliamentarians to deliver a constitution that suits only them. recent days we have seen that the NCC members appear preoccupied with safeguarding their jobs. Some of the proposals on dealing with MP expulsions are shocking indeed.

  11. Cho,

    Frankly both committees are hardly democratic in composition from an absolute standpoint. Arguably parliament is the most representative body possible within any given country (if not, well that is what the NCC is supposed to address). In that case the Angolan model is both cheaper and (probably) faster, it is also more representative. I seriously need to write the comment in support of Prof. Kyambalesa on the increased size of parliament that has been brewing in me for a while now. Not tonight/this morning, too inarticulate to do it justice.

    I mean no offense whatsoever to any individual sitting on the NCC, my difficulty is with the structure and process, which I believe is not only leading to delay, but may also be contributing to the inclusion of items in the constitution which are arguably the province of future generation of legislators, and should be reserved as such. These persons by definition cannot be present to represent themselves, however they are presumably the primary beneficiaries of any reforms enacted by the NCC. It is through them, as enabled by the new Constitution, that the benefits of truly representative government are supposed to flow from and back to the People.

    This is a momentous, a gargantuan responsibility, which I must admit so far (in both Zambia and Angola) looks like something that will just have to be redone in a decade or two, because it isn't a foundational "rulebook" for the competition between political powers, it is legislation prompted by immediate interest that will inevitably be outdated. Everyone present may be honestly upholding the interests of their constituents and still be contributing to a flawed, improperly focused outcome. There is still time to have this not be the case.

  12. A bit more on the subject of Constitutions:

    It has become trite and hackneyed to cite the American Revolution and subsequent Constitutional Convention. The whole thing has been endlessly poured over, subjected to analysis and second-guessing and conspiracy for centuries. And yet, like Edison with his lightbulb, they were the first ones to get it to work.

    I feel that there are several important things to note about the structure of that first Constitutional Convention. First, there was no effort to enforce democracy within the convention itself. There were 13 original colonial governments, and this was a negotiation between them. Although delegations varied widely in size, each voted as a bloc, one state, one vote, seven states being a majority. What resulted was hard-fought negotiation, with few if any delegations emerging fully satisfied. The then draft Constitution was presented to the population over the objections of most sitting state and national governmental entities, who questioned its legitimacy, while it was the individual thinkers in the public, the lone voices who could find the wherewithal or support to publish, that really made the whole thing work.

    The Federalist Papers, written as over a hundred separate anonymous editorials published in newspapers up and down the eastern seaboard of America (attributed mostly to Madison and Hamilton, to a lesser extent Jay), attempted to explain the reasoning behind the compromises of the Convention. From my distant perspective they appear to have done an even-handed job of explaining the various States' positions and reasons for protecting their interests through this clause or that one. Truly they did an admirable job of balancing power amongst the powerful.

    Alongside these were the various and sundry counter-arguments placed as editorials in lesser number and with more haphazard distribution, now known collectively as the Anti-Federalist Papers. It is from them, the persons not invited to contribute to the draft, but without satisfying whom the draft could never pass referendum by the people once the arguments had been laid before them, that we derive most of what the world now views as foundational and unique to that original American Democracy: the Bill of Rights. All ten now considered inherent to basic freedom by every American citizen, and to a greater or lesser extent persons around the world following democratic reform over subsequent centuries. All ten were amendments to the original draft that had been already agreed upon by the powers that be.

    There is an old wisdom that if you want to ensure that something not easy to divide is to be divided fairly (such as an estate between two contentious sons), then it is best to let one side set the terms of the division, and the other to choose between them. In that way, even if there is error, neither side can claim that they are not to blame. Let the NCC come up with what they will, as long as the referendum process is undertaken with the understanding by government that inclusion of the resulting input which is opposed to elements of the emergent draft are vital to the longevity of the result. Suppressing such opinion now will only undermine the legitimacy of what is supposed to be a universally foundational document that all parties can freely agree to abide by. Besides, while you may be in power now, what of your grandchildren, can you guarantee them a majority too? They may thank you for safeguarding the rights of political minorities while you had the chance.


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