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Namibia: Swapo returns, bigger and bolder than ever

No surprises here: in a show of utter dominance, Namibia’s ruling party strolled to victory in both presidential and parliamentary elections. The results are a vindication of Swapo’s uninterrupted reign over independent Namibia, and a sign that they’ll be in charge for a long time still to come. By SIMON ALLISON.

It took a little longer than expected for Africa’s first-ever electronic voting system to deliver the results of the Namibian elections, held on Friday. By Monday afternoon, the final figures for both the presidential and parliamentary polls were yet to be announced – not a long delay in a the grand scheme of things, or relative to other elections in the region, but a disappointing start for a system that is supposed to revolutionise voting across the continent.

Nonetheless, this didn’t stop members of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo) from celebrating yet another comprehensive victory. And their confidence was not misplaced. When the final results were announced on Monday night, they were an overwhelming endorsement of the ruling party.

Prime Minister Hage Geingob, running for president under the Swapo banner, garnered 86.73% of the vote – the most for any presidential candidate in Namibia’s electoral history. Meanwhile Swapo received 80.01% of the national assembly ballot, meaning the party comfortably retains its two-thirds majority in parliament (allowing it to change the Constitution at will).

Over 1.2 million people voted in these polls, which were declared free and fair by observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) (not that this is a ringing endorsement, as the Khampepe Report proves).

For Namibia’s pretenders to the throne – specifically Swapo off-shoot Rally for Democracy and Progress – the results reveal the extent of the mountain they must climb before they become a half-way credible opposition. The second-ranking presidential candidate, McHenry Venaani of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, didn’t even win 5% of the electorate.

“The opposition has not capitalised on the many mistakes Swapo has made, on the large scale corruption reported in newspapers on an almost daily basis,” commented Johnathan Beukes, a journalist with independent paper The Namibian. This, perhaps, is a reflection of a largely symbolic opposition movement with little grassroots support; one that only seems to make any kind of noise once every five years, when elections come around.

This state of affairs suits Swapo and new president-elect Hage Geingob down to the ground. Their power is near-absolute, and – even more importantly – the overwhelming vote of confidence from the electorate has shown the party just how far it can go in asserting its power. Earlier this year, the party controversially introduced 42 new constitutional amendments in parliament, taking advantage of their two-thirds majority to ram them through. By increasing Swapo’s share of the vote in these elections, voters have effectively given Swapo carte blanche to continue interfering with the constitution should they choose to do so.

The result also silences potential dissent within the party – which is the most likely source of genuine opposition. “This overwhelming win should help them to maintain unity, in that it signals to party members: if you’re not with us, you’re in the political wilderness,” said Maximilian Weylandt, a Namibian academic at the University of Oxford. “Two parties formed from Swapo split-offs have now faltered…Winning with such a high margin means that dissidents will think twice before causing too much trouble.”

For Namibia, the election results essentially guarantees more of the same. “I think nothing major will change. Swapo knows what they have, and they like things the way they are. So they’re not going to rock the boat in any major way. The status quo is working for them, and the electorate is willing to reward them for this,” said Weylandt.

Beukes concurs. “It’s not going to be much different. Swapo rule by committee. Geingob is very headstrong, he will surround himself with technocrats…He has a track record in good public management. It will probably be a bit more efficient [than former President Pohamba’s administration], but it will be very open to business because he’s an unrepentant capitalist. Geingob will make doing business in Nam a lot easier, especially for outsiders, and that’s basically it. I don’t think he will change much, I don’t think Namibia will change much. We’ll continue to have problems with education – our education system is basically in the toilet. Our health system hasn’t been functioning properly for at least 10 years. And then there’s large-scale corruption committed by senior leadership of Swapo, and nothing ever gets done about any of these cases.” DM

Photo: Namibia’s Prime Minister Hage Geingob leaves the fourth EU-Africa Summit of Heads of States at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 03 April 2014. EPA/Stephanie Lecocq.


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