Steps Toward a Stronger Party and Political Discord

Steps Toward a Stronger Party and Political Discord

The party unanimously confirmed dos Santos as its president during the MPLA-PT's First Extraordinary Party Congress held in December 1980. The congress also increased the number of Central Committee members from fifty-eight to seventy, and it took a decisive step toward creating a greater role for the party in running the nation and a diminished role for the government. A major constitutional change that had been enacted earlier paved the way for the formation of the national People's Assembly. Provincial assemblies, elected by the public, then elected assembly members, who in turn elected a twenty-five-member permanent commission that included the president and the entire Political Bureau. Thus, the People's Assembly, which replaced the government's Council of the Revolution, became an organ primarily of the party rather than the government.

During a meeting in March 1981, the Central Committee further reinforced the MPLA-PT's primacy over the government by assigning to itself increased responsibility for the job of orienting and supervising the work of the Council of Ministers. A government reorganization followed the meeting, and several ministers left the government to take on senior party positions, where they had greater opportunities to gain power. Because most of the ministers who remained in the Council of Ministers were technocrats, the bureaucratic skills of government officials improved, and the reorganization further differentiated government and party functions.

Dos Santos's efforts to secure the supremacy of the party over the government, however, created sharp divisions within the government and party elites along political and racial lines. On one side were the Africanists, or nationalists, who were mostly black and held most of the senior positions in the government and ministries. The Africanists, for the most part, were known as pragmatists and favored improved relations with the West and a rapprochement with UNITA. On the other side were the ideologues, mostly mestišos and whites, who dominated the party and adhered adamantly to the Soviet Marxist-Leninist line. Although these divisions caused bitter schisms and numerous policy-making problems, they were not unusual for a government that dealt with both the Soviet Unionm and its Allies (in the military sphere) and the West (in the economic sphere).


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