The head of Angola’s ruling MPLA party, former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, said on Friday that the party should wait until December or April next year before choosing a new leader to replace him.
The move leaves open the possibility that dos Santos will remain head of the party into 2019 despite previous assurances from the African strongman that he would leave “active political life” this year.
Dos Santos handpicked Angola’s new President João Lourenço to succeed him when he stepped down last September after 38 years in power, but held onto his position as head of the party, creating two centres of power in the oil-producing nation.
Since then he has been under increasing pressure to give up the presidency of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) that has governed Angola continuously since independence from Portugal in 1975.
Lourenço has moved against some of dos Santos’ old allies and removed family members from key positions, including his daughter Isabel from the chair of state oil company Sonangol and José Filomeno from the sovereign wealth fund.
Party stalwarts have also come out to say they intended to ensure dos Santos keeps his word to step down in 2018.
But, after a flurry of rumours on social media suggesting Friday’s central committee meeting could see a date for his removal forced upon him, dos Santos moved pre-emptively to set his own timeline.
“I recommend that it would be most prudent that the party’s extraordinary congress which will resolve the question of the leadership of the MPLA be in December 2018 or April 2019,” he told the central committee at the opening of the meeting.
For Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at London’s Chatham House, the adept maneuver was typical of a politician who was able to hold on to power for 38 years.
“He has recently been under mounting pressure to step aside from the MPLA presidency but has shown that this will be partly on his own terms,” Vines said.
Dos Santos remains hugely powerful as head of the party, with influence over the way lawmakers vote in parliament and party policy proposals, but his relationship with Lourenço has reportedly deteriorated significantly.
“A transition of power after almost 38 years was never going to be simple or smooth, and the tug-of-war over the MPLA presidency is a reminder that this transition is still in its infancy,” Vines said.