As veteran leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos, steps down as prime minister, the ruling party's defence minister, Joao Lourenco is poised to take up his position. He will be inheriting an economy in recession with unemployment and inflation on the rise.

More than two-thirds of Angolans are below 25 so many people have voted for the first time.
More than two-thirds of Angolans are below 25 so many people have voted for the first time. (AP)

Angolans voted on Wednesday in an election marking the end of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's 38-year reign, with his MPLA party set to retain power despite an economic crisis.

The MPLA, which has ruled since Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to defeat opposition parties stifled by Dos Santos's authoritarian regime.

Dos Santos's unexpected retirement - reportedly prompted by poor health - has triggered the biggest political transition in decades for Angola, a leading African oil exporter.

His chosen successor, however, is Joao Lourenco, a party loyalist who served defence minister until last month.

Lourenco is expected to avoid immediate change in a government often criticised for corruption and its failure to tackle dire poverty.

"I am calm, I am going to stay calmly at home while waiting for my party colleagues to inform me of the results," he said after voting in Luanda, adding that the election was "going smoothly."

Dos Santos's long reign has seen the end of Angola's bloody civil war that lasted from 1975 to 2002, and a post-conflict investment boom as the country exploited its oil reserves.

But the flood of money brought little benefit to Angola's poor, and government spending collapsed when oil prices fell in 2014.

Inflation hit 40 percent at the end of last year, when annual growth was less than one percent.

Lourenco has vowed to boost foreign investment, and said he wants to be recognised as the man who brought an "economic miracle" to Angola.

Lourenco is expected to avoid immediate change in a government often criticised for corruption and its failure to tackle dire poverty.
Lourenco is expected to avoid immediate change in a government often criticised for corruption and its failure to tackle dire poverty. (Reuters)

Who is Lourenco? 

Lourenco, is a ruling-party loyalist and former general who endured several years out of favour after he angled for the top job in the 1990s.

Since then, Lourenco, 63, has convinced key regime players he is the right man to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the oil-rich southwest African nation for 38 years.

As the deputy president of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and as defence minister until last month, Lourenco is "part of the inner circle of power", according to Didier Peclard, an Angola specialist at the University of Geneva.

In February, Dos Santos named Lourenco the party's presidential candidate for Wednesday's general election.

It was something of a turnaround for a man whose political ambition nearly ended his career back in the 1990s when Dos Santos hinted he might be standing down, and Lourenco failed to hide his desire to succeed him. 

Dangerous dissent under Dos Santos

Dissent has often been dangerous under Dos Santos, who has been a secretive but inescapable presence in Angolan life for decades.

Angola's next leader "must guide the country out of the spiral of oppression," Amnesty International said in a statement.

"Dos Santos's presidency is marked by his appalling human-rights record. For decades, Angolans have lived in a climate of fear in which speaking out was met with intimidation (and) imprisonment."

"I voted for those who will solve the problems of this country," Rui Francisco Joao, a 33-year-old blacksmith who supports the MPLA, said.

"Our party has made some mistakes but we will change."

The MPLA, which won 72 percent in the 2012 election, has funded a rush of infrastructure projects, apparently to shore up support levels among Angola's 9.3 million registered voters.

Polls are due to close at 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) with early results expected by Friday.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies