MPLA and UNITA began by fighting a common enemy—Portugal—for Angola's independence in 1961. They formed a coalition government along with the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FLNA) following Portugal's decision to grant Angola independence on 11 November 1975, but the differences between the groups resulted in the coalition's disintegration before independence was achieved. The failure of the coalition government set the stage for a civil war that continued to plague the nation into the 21st century. UNITA, backed by the United States and South Africa, fought MPLA, backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba in a Cold-War showdown. However, the MPLA forces gained the victory when they overpowered major UNITA strongholds, and earned recognition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as the official government of Angola in 1976.
However, MPLA's hold on the government was far from secure. UNITA continued operating from southern Angola and from Namibia to topple MPLA; both South Africa and Cuba remained involved in Angola's war-battered landscape as military presences. With so many countries and factions involved in the war, a peace agreement seemed impossible until the thawing of the Cold War in 1988 resulted in the withdrawal of South African and Cuban troops from Angola. The first free elections in 1992 gave a narrow victory to the MPLA (which then became the Government of the Republic of Angola, GRA), but UNITA alleged voter fraud and did not accept the results. Fighting broke out once more and UNITA gained control of 75 percent of the country. However, the international community condemned UNITA's failure to honor the election results and recognized the MPLA government as the legitimate power. The 1994 Lusaka Protocol attempted to broker a peace agreement between UNITA and MPLA, but not even the 6,000 peacekeeping troops installed in Angola by the United Nations in 1995 could stop continued fighting. By 1999 the United Nations withdrew its peacekeeping force and acknowledged the failure of the Lusaka Protocol.
The governmental structure of Angola is considered to be in transition pending the settlement of the civil war. In the country's first elections following independence, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the head of the MPLA, was elected under a one-party system. The 1992 elections were designed to elect the president by popular vote and the 220-seat National Assembly by proportional vote, with both president and legislators to serve 4-year terms. UNITA, led by presidential candidate Jonas Savimbi, contested the 1992 elections after winning 40.1 percent of the vote. Since that time the official government has been led by the MPLA with no new elections.