By Peter Wonacott and Herculano Coroado
Angolans voted on Friday for only the second time since 1992, in an election that has seen a longtime president trying to stem public anger in Africa's second-largest oil producer.
President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has never been directly elected to the office he has held since 1979, was expected to win a five-year term with the likely prospect that his ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, will secure the most seats in parliament.
But in the course of his campaign, the 70-year-old president has confronted Angola's most glaring social problems, from poverty to corruption, and faced growing dissent on the streets-as well as inside his own party.
Preliminary results could begin to be released Saturday, the election chief said. Monitors reported strong turnout despite some logistical snafus.
In the 2008 parliamentary elections, which were the first since 1992, the MPLA trounced its civil-war foe, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA. This time, more support has swung to the opposition, but those votes are expected to be divided among Angola's newer political parties-all but ensuring the MPLA keeps its majority in parliament.
"Today the people have the power in their hands to choose the leaders who will govern Angola in the next five years," Mr. dos Santos said. "That is a moment of great responsibility."
Recent street protests by youth activists and police clashes with civil-war veterans have publicized some popular grievances with the government. Top among them is its failure to spread the benefits of near-double digit economic growth and an influx of investment from multinational oil companies beyond a politically connected elite.
The MPLA campaigned with the slogan: "Angola: Growing more, distributing better." The question, analysts said, is whether the ruling party can change enough to fulfill its promises of creating more jobs and broadening access to public services.
"The presidential system built around dos Santos is increasingly inefficient and unable to deal with the challenges of modern Angola," said Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. "In election speeches, dos Santos and others acknowledge this-they are aware that popular frustration is growing."
The MPLA came to power after an armed struggle for independence from Portugal in 1975. Four years later, Mr. dos Santos became president, and he is now the longest-serving leader in Africa after Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The president's extended tenure has created opposition to him within his own party.
"I helped create what ended up becoming a one-party state in order to allow for a multiparty democracy," said Marcolino Moco, a lawyer and MPLA member who served as prime minister after the first democratic elections in 1992. "But today we are living in a one-man state."
Angola counts among the worst countries in terms of graft, according to Transparency International, an anticorruption watchdog based in Berlin. More than half of Angolans still live under the international poverty line. Average life expectancy is 51 years.
An April survey of Angolan residents by Gallup ranked Mr. dos Santos last among Africa leaders in terms of job approval.
At the top of the ticket with Mr. dos Santos is Manuel Vicente, the former head of state oil giant Sonangol. The 56-year-old technocrat is seen as a potential heir to the presidency, but his sway within the party remains unclear-as does his appetite for political change.
Some leaders warned before the vote of a possible boycott. Yet on the election's eve, Isaias Samakuva, UNITA's leader, urged supporters to cast their votes with "serenity and tranquillity."
On Friday, Mr. Samakuva described the vote as messy, adding, "this does not satisfy us."
Voting began late in several stations in Luanda, creating frustration among some who had been waiting to cast ballots. Several stations initially lacked voter registration books, election observers said. At a ballot station near the Luanda airport, some voters said they had been in line for hours; some gave up and left. "Why do we have to wait for such long time?" said Manuel Domingos, 47. "Nobody has explained."
André Silva Neto, the head of Angola's National Electoral Commission, acknowledged "several problems" but said they were solved and "not affecting the electoral process."
Alvaro Tavares, part of the African Union Observer Mission for the elections, said the day's vote unfolded with only minor mishaps. "Things are going smoothly, quiet really," he said. "There's good participation."
Write to Peter Wonacott at firstname.lastname@example.org