LUANDA - Angola’s ruling MPLA won this week’s election, a poll official announced Thursday, with party candidate Joao Lourenco now set to succeed President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos who has ruled for 38 years.

An election commission official in Luanda said the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) had won just over 64 percent of the vote.

The MPLA, which has ruled since Angola’s hard-fought independence from Portugal in 1975, had predicted it would easily win, but the result showed a fall in its support from the last election in 2012.

Dos Santos, a secretive and much criticised leader who announced his retirement earlier this year, handpicked as his successor Lourenco, 63, a veteran party loyalist who was defence minister until recently.

Lourenco has vowed to boost foreign investment, and said he wanted to be recognised as a leader who brought an “economic miracle” to the southern African country.

In the run-up to Wednesday’s election, the two principal opposition parties, UNITA and Casa-CE, alleged the campaign had not been fairly conducted.

They complained they had been deprived of media access and that voters in opposition strongholds were forced to cast their ballots at polling stations far from their homes. UNITA took 24 percent of the vote and Casa-CE took 8.5 percent, results showed.

The opposition parties had hoped to tap into public anger over inflation that peaked at over 40 percent last year, as well as low growth and high unemployment.

Despite being rich in oil and diamonds, Angola remains one of the poorest countries in the world and is one of the most closed societies on the African continent.

Before results were released, the MPLA’s central committee spokesman Joao Martins declared in the local media that the party’s victory was “unequivocal and virtually unavoidable”.

Dos Santos’s long reign saw the end of Angola’s bloody civil war between 1975 and 2002 and a post-conflict investment boom as the country exploited its oil reserves.

However, a slump in crude prices in 2014 hit the country hard.

“I am waiting for things to change, for more work, more schools, more hospitals and everything else,” MPLA supporter Rosaria Almeida said as she cast her ballot Wednesday.

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

Dos Santos has been dogged by reports of illness, with his regular visits to Spain for “private” reasons fuelling criticism that the state of his health was being hidden from ordinary Angolans.

Amnesty called for Angola’s next leader to “guide the country out of the spiral of oppression” and castigated Dos Santos’s “appalling human rights record”.

Critics often accuse him of ruthlessly suppressing dissent and enriching his family and the ruling elite.