Angola:Parliament approves constitutional bill on first reading; UNITA abstains

Angola’s parliament has approved on its first reading a proposal put forward by the president to revise the country’s constitution, with the main opposition party, UNITA, abstaining in the vote.

The proposal passed with 157 votes in favour from the governing MPLA, the CASA-CE coalition, the PRS party and the FNLA, with UNITA and independent members abstaining.

In presenting the proposal for a one-off revision of the constitution at the request, earlier this month, of the president, João Lourenço, his chief civilian aide, Adão de Almeida, dismissed the idea that it was a step towards postponing the 2022 general elections.

De Almeida stressed that the proposal does not envisage increasing the constitutional powers of the head of state, nor does it extend his mandate.

“The proposal does not foresee or intend to limit the political rights of any Angolan citizen,” he said, adding that “the proposal is open, clear and objective, having no other intentions than those stated in its text.”

De Almeida reiterated that the proposal aimed to improve the institutional relationship between the president and parliament, by clarifying the instruments of political oversight, among others.

After a five-hour debate, when it came to a vote, the leader of the MPLA parliamentary group, Américo Kuononoka, said that abstaining was effectively voting against, “taking into account the dimension of the issue, which is the Mother Law, that does not satisfy any political party, but the entire nation and all institutions” and that therefore UNITA had “clearly demonstrated to Angolans that it is a party that does not seem to honour its word.

“It seems a paradoxical party without a project for the country,” he went on. “Because with populism it demanded and propagated throughout the world the need for a constitutional revision, but today it denies its admission for the next step, which is the committee stage. How can it go to the committee stage when it didn’t even admit the proposal to go beyond this stage?”

No constitution is perfect, Kuononoka went on, but there are no wrong constitutions either, and Angola’s “should be one of the best in the world”. 

The leader of the UNITA parliamentary group, Liberty Chiaka, said that the proposed constitutional revision had not been preceded by a broad consultation of society and the most representative political organizations.

“A truly democratic state based on the rule of law cannot be built when the legislative initiative for constitutional revision obeys party political calculations,” he said, stressing that “one cannot have a constitution of all and for all when the proposal excludes from the outset the contributions of the main political actors and different socio-professional organisations.”

The country was, he said, missing the opportunity to review the constitution “with an inclusive spirit and unity”. However, he expressed the hope that, in the committee stage, a willingness to build a plural nation would prevail over the interests of particular groups.

Sikonda Alexandre, a member for CASA-CE, said that the coalition’s vote in favour was due to the fact that it believed that the current constitution, which has been in force since 2010, does not correspond to Angolans’ aspirations and is “a clear obstacle to democratic development, removing legitimate powers from a sovereign body, the National Assembly, and placing another sovereign body, the judiciary, in a clear and unequivocal dependence on the holder of executive power.”

For his part, PRS member Benedito Daniel said he had voted in favour because the revision is necessary, despite not having the approach that the party wanted.

“It is the wish of all of us that the parliament oversees the acts of the executive; it is equally useful that the possibility of voting is given back to the residents in the diaspora,” he said, mentioning two of the revision’s key points. But he stressed the need to overcome differences over the holding of local elections, “which is gradualism, but not only”.

The vote in favour, he said, “is only to seek the will to create a convergent environment, which allows the discussion to be undertaken in detail, admitting the opinions of other parties in order to build consensus that reflects a revision of all and for all Angolans.”

FNLA deputy Lucas Ngonda recalled that the opposition had long called for a revision of the constitution, on several other issues that constitute “a certain embarrassment” to the country’s government.

“Since the President of the Republic has himself taken the initiative to review all the issues that have been raised during his term of office, we believe that he is on the right track,” said Ngonda, adding that the essential thing now is for his proposed amendments to bring some balance into the functioning of the institutions. 

Leonel Gomes, a non-attached member of parliament, said that he had abstained to give “the benefit of the doubt” to the proposal, saying that he was “pleased” to hear that it would be possible to suggest some amendments.

“Thus, we leave with the conviction that with the contribution of all we can improve the proposal that has been brought to this great house,” he said. 

The proposal for the revision of the constitutional now goes to the committee on constitutional and legal affairs, for the detailed drafting of the bill for debate there and subsequent vote in plenary session.

The president proposes a clarification of constitutional mechanisms of political supervision of the parliament over the executive arm, in order to improve the positioning and institutional relationship between the two sovereign bodies, as well as granting the right of emigrants to vote, enshrine the National Bank of Angola as an administrative entity independent from the executive power; and to remove from the constitution the principle of gradualism in the institutionalisation of local authorities, to allow the parliament to discuss the issue freely, among others.