INTERNATIONAL NEWS - With President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's face plastered on jumbo screens, T-shirts and helium blimps, thousands of Angolans rallied Wednesday in the final campaign show of one of Africa's most powerful rulers.
Supporters came in buses, mini-vans and a fleet of luxury SUVs to Angola's biggest stadium, on the outskirts of Luanda, an area being transformed into a "new city" by a staggering landscape of mainly Chinese construction projects.
With speakers blaring jingles in support of the ruling MPLA, the crowd danced to lyrics like "The MPLA is our party" and "It's for all Angolans, the MPLA."
A stage festooned with balloons in the party colours of red, yellow and black rose outside the stadium, flanked by jumbo screens showing Dos Santos's face alongside a party flag. In the rear of the crowd, his face beamed from a two-storey banner.
And in the crowd, the party wasted no opportunity to brand itself and the president's portrait on headscarves, baseball caps, T-shirts, cowboy hats, umbrellas and skirts.
"We want Jose Eduardo dos Santos to win," said Fernando Bumba. The 49-year-old said he had voted for the MPLA in the 2008 elections, when the party took more than 80 percent of the vote in the country's first peacetime polls.
"The MPLA has built stadiums, schools and clinics. This party can help the poor," he said.
The rally was designed like a well-organised street fair. The Organisation of Angolan Women was given prime spots in front of the stage, cheering "Viva!" and dancing to party songs.
Men and young boys were grouped by regions in the rear, separated by ropes with sections clearly labeled. Along the edges rose a thriving market of barbecues and fresh fruits.
Through the crowd volunteers passed out water and juice, and of course large photographs of Dos Santos.
"This party cares about the future of young people," said 19-year-old Silvio Cuanzanga Zua, a computer science student wearing a Dos Santos T-shirt and cap.
He praised Dos Santos for improvements to his family's neighbourhood.
"Now we have water at my house," he said.
Not that life is easy. He lives with his parents and six siblings in a three-bedroom home. Some of his brothers work as taxi drivers, but he believes he'll be able to find a better job.
The lavishly orchestrated rally took place within sight of the "new city" of Kilamba Kaixi, a sprawling Chinese-built complex developed to house tens of thousands of families in one of the government's showcase projects to ease Luanda's crushing housing shortage.
But one year after the first phase was completed, the city remains largely empty -- a sign of both Angola's heady ambitions and its difficulty in following through on its projects.
At the rally, few cared about the government's shortfalls.
In power for nearly 33 years, Dos Santos claims credit for ending the country's 27-year civil war and for the economic boom of the last decade, when Angola, Africa's second-largest oil producer, emerged as one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
One 57-year-old retired teacher, who declined to be named, said she'd supported the MPLA all her life, because it's "the party of peace".
She blamed Unita, the former rebel group that is now the main opposition, for dragging out the war.
"During the war, we couldn't do anything. Now we can do whatever we want," she said. "The most important thing is peace."