UPDATED: Angola’s election commission says ruling MPLA party leads with 52% majority; most votes counted

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LUANDA, Aug 25 (Reuters) – Most votes in Angola’s parliamentary elections have been counted and provisional results show that the ruling MPLA party is ahead with a 52% majority, while their main opposition rivals have 42%, the election commission said on Thursday.

The commission said 86% of ballots had so far been counted, which suggested that former Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was likely to extend its near five-decade stint in power — giving President Joao Lourenço a second five-year term.

The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola’s (UNITA), the opposition party led by Adalberto Costa Junior, did not immediately respond. UNITA dismissed the first provisional results announced by the commission earlier on Thursday as unreliable.

UNITA’s vice-presidential candidate Abel Chivukuvuku told Portuguese radio station TSF that the party was considering contesting the elections result because they do not “correspond to reality”.

Political analysts saw Wednesday’s election as UNITA’s best-ever chance of victory amid growing anger among young Angolans at the MPLA for being sidelined in profiting from their country’s oil-fuelled booms. The MPLA has ruled since Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

Thursday’s announcement of provisional results by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) was surprisingly soon after polls closed — previous announcements have taken days. In 2017, the elections’ final results were announced two weeks after the polls took place.

UNITA and the MPLA have been rivals since before Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. The two sides fought a civil war intermittently for over 25 years, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

The last, decade-long bout of fighting was triggered in 1992 when UNITA contested election results giving the MPLA a clear majority. That triggered a re-start of the civil war which lasted until the two sides made a peace agreement in 2002.

Recent ballots, including the last one in 2017, did not spur widespread violence as MPLA’s lead remained solid, but a report by the Institute for Security Studies said that if an MPLA win is perceived as fraudulent, unrest could follow.

“Voters reacted with a lot of incredulity and disbelief,” Angolan political analyst Claudio Silva told Reuters on Thursday, noting that photos of results sheets taken by voters contradicted the provisional count of the CNE.

Several videos emerged during the night of angry voters at polling stations complaining that the result sheet was not shared with the public for consultation, a requirement under Angolan law.

Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

UNITA’s leader Costa Junior had told Reuters on Sunday that contesting the election result was not off the table if the process was deemed undemocratic.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Miguel Gomes; Editing by Francesco Guarascio, Tim Cocks and Raissa Kasolowsky

Election officials count the votes after the polls closed in the general elections at a polling station in Luanda, Angola. The general elections will define the composition of parliament and the names of the President and Vice President of the Republic. EPA-EFE/PAULO NOVAIS

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