Angola's ruling party said Thursday it won a majority in the country's election with five million votes counted so far, opening the way for the defense minister to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos after his 38-year rule, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported. The MPLA party concluded it had won Wednesday's election after reviewing data relayed by its delegates from polling stations nationwide, said Joao Martins, a senior official at the party's headquarters in Luanda, the capital.
Mr. Martins said Defense Minister Joao Lourenco would therefore succeed dos Santos, who took power in 1979, according to Lusa. The report came as the main opposition UNITA party alleged that police fired shots and made arrests near some polling stations as people voted in Huambo city. Election officials, however, said the vote went smoothly despite minor problems and delays.
Raul Danda, vice president of the UNITA party, said results from its own count "completely contradict" the ruling party's assertion of victory, Lusa reported. Angola's election commission has not released any results of the vote. About 9.3 million Angolans were registered to vote for the 220-member National Assembly; the winning party then selects the president.
Mr. Lourenco, 63, is a former governor who fought in the war against Portuguese colonial rule as well as the long civil war that ended in 2002. Lourenco has pledged to fight graft and is seen as a symbol of stability and even incremental change. Oil-rich Angola is beset by widespread poverty, corruption, and human rights concerns, though some analysts believe new leadership could open the way to more accountability.
Critics, however, point to entrenched patronage networks benefiting an elite that includes Isabel dos Santos, the president's daughter and head of the state oil company Sonangol, and Jose Filomeno dos Santos, a son in charge of the country's sovereign wealth fund.
Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, is expected to remain ruling party leader, though there are concerns about his health since he received medical treatment in Spain this year. Angolan rights activists have alleged that the ruling MPLA party unfairly used state machinery ahead of Wednesday's election, noting that most media coverage focused on the MPLA campaign. Opposition parties have said there were irregularities ahead of the voting.
Election observers from other African countries monitored the vote, but the European Union did not send a full-fledged observer mission because it said the Angolan government wanted to impose restrictions, including limited access to polling stations around the country.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.