[JURIST] The Parliament of the Republic of Angola [BBC backgrounder] approved a new constitution on Thursday that would end the popular election of the president, despite the refusal of opposition party UNITA [party website] to take part in the vote. The new constitution [Reuters report] replaces an interim constitution [text, PDF] that had been in place since 1975. It provides for the appointment of the country's president by parliament's majority party, ending the direct election of the country's president. It also replaces the position of prime minister with a vice president, who will be appointed by the president. It limits a president to two five-year terms, but that clause will first take effect after parliamentary elections in 2012. Opponents of the constitution argue that it is merely a way to further expand the power of current President Jose Eduardo dos Santos [BBC profile], but members of the ruling MPLA party say that it will allow him to more effectively rule [ANGOP report] the country.
Dos Santos has been in power since 1979. He faced one round of elections in 1992 before a second round was called off due to violence [AFP report]. A presidential election that was scheduled for 2009 was delayed while the new constitution was being considered. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has expressed doubts as to whether past parliamentary elections were fair and free and has identified problems [HRW reports] with the electoral system.