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Joao Lourenco, presidential candidate for the ruling MPLA party, waits to cast his vote in Luanda, Angola, August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Eisenhammer

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LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola's ruling MPLA party said it would win an unequivocal victory in a parliamentary election as votes were tallied ahead of the expected release of partial results later on Thursday.

Angola, home to sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest economy, held a smooth national election on Wednesday with the MPLA's former defence minister Joao Lourenco expected to be voted in as the OPEC-member's first new president for 38 years.

"The victory of the MPLA is unequivocal, practically inescapable. We hope that in the next hours we can already start announcing the numbers,” João Martins, MPLA secretary for political and electoral affairs, told reporters late on Wednesday.

Lourenço, a quiet 63-year-old more used to army barracks and the closed doors of party politics than the public spotlight, is expected to secure re-election for The People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), but with a reduced majority.

He would replace veteran leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, who will remain as head of the party, giving him potentially sweeping powers over decision-making.

Dos Santos, Africa's longest-ruling president behind Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, steps down after guiding Angola from Marxism to capitalism while embracing Chinese oil-for-infrastructure investment.

His daughter, Isabel, heads national energy company Sonangol, which runs Africa's second biggest oil industry. His son, José Filomeno, is in charge of the $5 billion state investment fund.

The MPLA, which has ruled Angola since independence from Portugal in 1975, has lost some support due to political cronyism, though many Angolans remain loyal to the party that emerged victorious from 27 years of civil war in 2002.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the National Electoral Commission said that 15 polling stations failed to open on Wednesday due to transport issues and that about 1,300 people will cast their vote on Saturday instead.

The commission spokesperson said the incident would not impact on the release of partial results.

An unofficial result is expected by Friday. But there may be no formal announcement for two weeks as ballot boxes wend their way along pot-holed roads and dirt tracks in a country of 28 million spread across an area twice the size of France.

(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Joe Brock and Angus MacSwan)

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