The party that has ruled Angola continuously for nearly 50 years claimed victory on Friday in this week's election, after the electoral commission put its share of the vote at 51%, but the leader of the main opposition coalition rejected the results.
Fewer than half of Angola's registered voters turned out for Wednesday's election, which now looks certain to give President Joao Lourenco a second five-year term and extend the rule of the MPLA, which has governed the southern African oil producer since independence from Portugal in 1975.
With more than 97% of the vote counted, the election commission said on Thursday the formerly Marxist People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, was ahead with a 51% majority while its long-time opponent, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, had 44.5%.
"We have reached yet another outright majority. We have a calm majority to govern without any kind of problem and we will do it," MPLA spokesman Rui Falcao told a news conference in the capital Luanda, a city that overwhelmingly voted for UNITA.
But the MPLA still took a big knock. In the last elections in 2017, the MPLA won 61.08% of the vote and Unita only 28.68%. And there have been widespread accusations of fraud by the CNE in Wednesday’s results, which Unita said it would challenge in court.
UNITA leader, Costa Junior, addressing journalists and supporters for the first time since the vote, rejected what he called "brutal" discrepancies between the commission's count and their own tally.
"There is not the slightest doubt that the MPLA did not win the elections," he said. "UNITA does not recognise the provisional results." It was Angola's most closely fought poll yet, with unprecedented gains for the opposition in parliamentary seats.
Analysts fear any dispute could ignite violence among a poor and frustrated youth who voted for Junior. The MPLA and UNITA, formerly both anti-colonial guerrilla groups, were on opposing sides of an on-off civil war after independence that lasted 27 years until 2002.
Junior urged Angolans to keep calm, which so far they mostly have, aside from the odd protest broken up by tear gas and baton-wielding police. Civil society activists shared images on social media of dozens of young people marching, chanting, and waving banners in protest against electoral fraud in the coastal town of Lobito on Friday.
Junior must lodge a complaint to the commission, and if it is rejected, he can challenge the result in the Constitutional Court, which must rule on the matter within 72 hours.
If the results tally stays as it is then UNITA, for the first time, will have deprived the MPLA of the two-thirds majority needed to pass major reforms - the ruling party will instead need the backing of other lawmakers.
But perhaps even more telling was how few voters showed up to choose between two political entities which have dominated Angolan politics since independence. Election data released on Friday showed that turnout was 45.65% of eligible voters.
Lourenço, 68, has pledged to extend reforms in his second term, including privatising poorly run state assets. But many Angolans still live in poverty despite promises of a fairer distribution of wealth in Africa's second biggest oil producer, which benefited UNITA, as they were popular with poor, jobless youths.