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Namibia: President Pohamba reelected
NewsNotes, January-February 2010

In late November, Namibia’s incumbent president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, was elected to a second five-year term. The elections seemed to provide a decisive win for the country’s former guerilla movement, the South West African People’s Organisation, or Swapo, although in late December a Namibian court ordered authorities to release documents to eight opposition parties contesting the results.

Namibia, a former German colony that was governed by neighboring South Africa during the apartheid era, is seen as a peaceful and stable democracy. Although rich in diamond and uranium deposits, about 40 percent of the nearly two million Namibians live below the poverty line. The government, which has received some praise for its “sound” economic policies and for broadening access to education and health care, is the largest employer in the country, but unemployment remains a major problem and AIDS has had a devastating impact on the population.

Dr. Henning Melber, executive director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden, and a member of Swapo since 1974, commented on the elections in an article, quoted below, for the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The complete article is available from the Heinrich Böll Foundation/Southern Africa website.

Three African observer missions – from the Southern African Development Community, the Parliamentary Forum of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union – quickly declared the elections transparent, peaceful and fair, although some recommendations were made to improve the counting process, media balance, and the accuracy of the electoral roll.

The observer mission of the Pan African Parliament was somewhat more critical, noting the bias toward Swapo of the state-owned radio and television company and raising concerns over the printing of 1.6 million ballot papers (for an registered electorate markedly below one million) as a potential recipe for vote-rigging. “Although the mission had concluded that the elections took place within the constitutional and legislative framework, it felt that Namibia could do much better.”

Namibian civil society election observation teams fielded by the Namibian Institute for Democracy (NID) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also seemed “largely satisfied that the results reflected the will of the voters.” But other local observers and opposition parties widely alleged voting and counting irregularities.

“Notwithstanding such dubious symptoms, many observers would however concede that the Swapo dominance only reconfirmed the firm and efficient control exercised over the Namibian electorate by the party in political power…

“For the first time a considerable number of young voters were able to express their preferences. These ‘born free’ were … due to their sizeable numbers, considered to be of some influence over the outcome and hence a much speculated ‘unknown variable.’ This could have positively influenced the campaign strategy by Swapo as for the first time the cultivation of the liberation gospel was complemented by an emphasis on the claimed achievements since independence. At the end, the ‘born free’ seemingly did not play any decisive role in changing the voting pattern.”

Previously prominent opposition parties lost ground in this election. The Congress of Democrats’ (COD) presidential candidate, for example, had weak support and the party lost seats in the National Assembly, significantly curtailing its political influence. 

“Despite being the new kid on the block, and notwithstanding the fact that it has emerged as the new official opposition, the RDP [Rally for Democracy and Progress] has little reason to celebrate. …While the RDP boasted of having a database with close to 400,000 supporters, they only managed to garner less than 100,000 votes. As of 21 March 2010, four of their eight MPs taking seats in the National Assembly have in their earlier political life already represented Swapo in this august house. They will have to show in the five years ahead that they can make a difference and are more than old wine in new bottles. This will not be an easy task, especially when confronted with the merciless dogmatic and unforgiving dominance of Swapo, which will be anything but accommodating.

“The results of the presidential election, conducted in a parallel voting act on separate ballot papers, showed – as in all previous elections – that the votes for Swapo’s candidate actually exceeded those for the party. Hifikepunye Pohamba received almost 9,000 votes more than the party list, which underscores his status as a respected leader who is entrusted by the electorate with running the affairs of the republic as the head of state. This is a remarkable vote of confidence after a number of internal disputes during his first term ..., when party factions challenged his policy of reconciliation towards some party members accused of being ‘unreliable’….

“The re-elected president Pohamba could use this vote of confidence … to execute with authority his comparatively moderate line of policy in the party he represents. Originally almost forced into office as the declared crown prince of the founding father Sam Nujoma and reluctant himself to pursue such a career, he was a representative of a reconciliatory approach, who declared to take a firm position on combating corruption. During his first term in office, he did not meet such expectations and too often showed leniency towards the orthodox party hardliners pushing for a more exclusivist and dogmatic approach. At times he seemed to be caught between his party loyalty and his own values as a man who prefers peace and harmony to polarization.”

Another challenge for Namibia is made clear by the fact that the election results, according to New Era, pushed the country “further away from meeting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) requirements of a balanced parliamentary gender representation that comes into effect in 2015… [T]he country’s fifth Parliament will start with 16 women parliamentarians out of the possible 72, which makes it a 22 percent representation down from the previous 33 percent. SADC targets 50 percent women representation in Parliament for all its member states in the next five years.”

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