by Phyllis Johnson
An elderly woman, bent over double with age, made her way slowly across dusty, open ground toward a polling table set up outside in the open air.

On reaching the table she produced a plastic card containing her photograph, name and registration number. The name and number were read aloud by the presiding officer, a young man about 25 years of age.

Four other young people, men and women, sat beside him at the table. One wrote down the registration details, another tore a leaf from two pads of ballot papers, and a third held up a bottle of indelible purple ink for dipping her right index finger.

A pale pink ballot paper contained photographs of 11 people (10 men and one woman) aspiring to the post of President of the Republic. A light blue ballot paper listed the names, flags and symbols of 18 parties contesting 220 seats in the national assembly.

Three colour-coded metal boxes sat on a separate table off to one side — one pink, one blue and a white one for voters who could not produce a registration card. All of the ballot boxes had a slot on top, and were locked and scaled with numbered yellow seals, indicating that the boxes had been inspected before closing.

At a third table, behind the first one, sat six men and women, party delegates representing three of the presidential aspirants and three political parties.

About five meters away, a three-sided booth sat on another table, and it was toward this booth that the old lady moved laboriously after receiving her ballot papers.

A crowd of about 200 people watched from a distance, patiently awaiting their turn in two lines, one of men and one of women.

The ballot papers flapped in the wind and the old lady held them down with her elbow as she made her choice using one of two marking devices in the booth — a ball-point pen for writing an X on the papers or an ink pad for marking her fingerprint.

No one could see which method she used or which choice she made. She folded her papers twice and slowly made her way back to the boxes to insert the blue paper in one and the pink in the other.

Back at the first table, the young polling officials were already processing the next voter, as they were expected to reach a target of 1200 people over two days of voting from 7 in the morning until 7 at night.

The five officials, including a “president” or presiding officer, a secretary and three scrutineers, wore red peaked caps and blue-and-white T-shirts from the National Electoral Council, proclaiming: ANGOU, Eleçõis Livres e Justas. ANGOLA, Free and Fair Elections.

On 29 and 30 September 1992, a similar scene was reproduced over and ewer again at more than 5,000 locations all Over Angola. The young polling officials and the party delegates remained as above, but the voters changed — young women with babies on their backs, middle-aged men — as Angolans over the age of 18 voted by secret ballot for their next government. Most of the 4.86 million registered voters turned out to vote.

Sometimes the venue was a crowded classroom at a local school, sometimes an open-air market. The young polling officials were teachers, university students or other literate professionals.

Political posters had been removed and no campaigning was allowed on the election days, but a carnival atmosphere prevailed. Most people turned out to vote on the first morning, and long lines formed with good-natured pushing and jostling, like bread queues where people expected the bread to be finished by the time they reached the front.

Dried military rations supplied by the United States proved unpopular with polling station staff, largely because they did not have clean water to mix but also because they did not like the look of “this food which has already been chewed”.

Late on the first day of polling, the electoral council appealed to communities to prepare and deliver food to the polls.

That night, the presiding officers and party delegates affixed a second seal to the ballot boxes, blocking the slots, and settled down for the night, sleeping next to the boxes. In the morning, they removed the seals and resumed the voting.

After the polls closed at 7 p.m. on the second day, the counting began at each location, sometimes by candlelight. But in many areas without electricity, the officials and party delegates again scaled the boxes and bedded down with them for the night, to begin counting the following morning.

The boxes were unsealed and opened in front of party delegates and international observers. The ballots were dumped out, counted and recounted. Each ballot was shown to all people present and called out aloud, tabulated and placed in the appropriate pile.

When there was more than one mark or a mark was unclear, party delegates agreed to accept the ballot or reject it.

The number of ballots that were brancos or nulos (blank or spoilt) was running at about 12% of the total as the count progressed, an even percentage across almost all of the provinces. This could seem high but for the fac1 that it was the first time this system of voting had been used and some older people did not understand clearly the instructions in the national language, Portuguese.

International observers from the United Nations {UN), the Organization of African Unity and the Non-aligned Movement, as well as parliamentarians, NGOs, elections experts and academics from Europe, the United States and southern Africa, fanned out across the country to closely watch the process.

The non-UN observers, religious leaders and others concluded that the process had been remarkably free and transparent, and without major incident.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Margaret Anstee, was expected to announce a similar conclusion after final tabulation of results.

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