Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, age 74, confirmed on February 3 that he will not seek re-election this year, ending his 38-year tenure as head of state. Dos Santos, the second-longest-serving leader on the continent, will however retain control of the ruling party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). He has reportedly expressed his desire to leave office in recent months as his health has worsened.
Following a 2010 constitutional amendment, Angolans no longer directly elect their president. Instead, the lead candidate of the party that receives the most votes wins the presidency. In 2012, the MPLA won approximately 72 percent of the vote, but international observers noted that opposition parties “suffered disadvantages” at polling stations.
The MPLA approved Defense Minister Joao Lourenco’s nomination as its presidential candidate at a meeting on December 2. Angolan journalist William Tonet described Lourenco as a “true son of the party” and predicted that his administration would continue the course of the current president. Critics suspect that Lourenco, a general, will keep power in the military’s hands. However, Lourenco does not share dos Santos’ reputation of corruption. While dos Santos has amassed most of his large fortune dishonestly, Lourenco has never been involved in a corruption scandal.
Dos Santos took power in September of 1979 after the death of Agostinho Neto, who had led Angola since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. As party leader, dos Santos will retain powers such as choosing parliamentary candidates and appointing top posts in the army and police.
While dos Santos’ decision appears to resemble that of Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh to step down recently, the two are not directly comparable. Dos Santos will maintain much of his power despite giving up his title as president. Additionally, Jammeh’s defeat marked the ruling party’s loss of power, while the MPLA is widely expected to maintain power in Angola.