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Namibia Prepares for National Elections

  • Scott Bobb

Some 1 million registered voters are expected to take part in Namibia's 5th general election since independence nearly 20 years ago

Voters in Namibia are preparing to go to the polls Friday and Saturday to choose a president and parliament. The South West Africa People's Organization is expected to remain in power but SWAPO is being challenged by a new breakaway party.

Some 1.1 million registered voters are expected to take part in Namibia's 5th general election since independence nearly 20 years ago.

Analysts say President Hifikepunye Pohamba will likely be re-elected to a second five-year term and his South West Africa People's Organization, which has dominated politics since independence, is expected to retain its two-thirds majority in parliament.

Analysts say the campaign has been energized by the emergence of a new party, the Rally for Democracy and Progress.

The RDP was formed two years ago after its leader, former foreign minister Hidipo Hametenya, lost his bid for the SWAPO leadership upon the retirement of Namibia's first president Sam Nujoma.

The director of Windhoek's Institute for Public Policy Research, Graham Hopwood, says the new party has heightened tensions.

"Because there was a split-off there, it has been a somewhat bitter election campaign, involving more intimidation and violence than we in Namibia are used to," he said.

A political science professor at the University of Namibia, Andre du Pisani, says because of Namibia's past the campaign had tended to center on personalities and party loyalties.

"Namibia's political culture principally doesn't turn on issue politics. It turns on personalities, on symbolic politics, on the mythologies of liberation. So to that extent issue-based politics is not a strong feature yet of our political culture," he said.

But he says indications are that the issues are becoming more important. Hopwood of the Public Policy Research Institute agrees.

"Because we are now nearly 20 years since Namibia became independent, increasingly they [SWAPO leaders] have to go on their track record as a government. And they have quite a lot to boast about."

He says the government has improved education, health and local services. But he adds that poverty is still widespread and the gap between rich and poor is wide. As a result, he says voters want to see more rapid progress," said Hopwood.

Du Pisani says people who are too young to remember the liberation struggle are voting for the first time. And what he calls the born-free generation have shifted the focus of the elections.

"The macro-political questions, unemployment, youth empowerment, national reconciliation, and the performance of the economy, these issues have really entered center stage in these elections," he said.

Analysts say the organization and logistics of the balloting appear to be going well. But the national electoral commission has been criticized for irregularities in voter registration lists.

Hopwood says some people appear to have been registered more than once and many deceased voters are still on the rolls.

"That is a worry that the voters register seems to be in somewhat of a mess," he said "But on the other hand the electoral commission is arguing that at the end of the day it's perhaps not that crucial because what they do here is ink the fingers when you vote to try to stop repeat voting," he added.

Another concern is a perceived lack of fairness in coverage by the state media. Hopwood says the state-owned newspaper has been relatively fair but the national broadcasting corporation has devoted 80 percent of its election coverage to SWAPO and less than 20 percent to the one dozen opposition parties.

Nevertheless, analysts note that 1600 foreign observers are in the country to monitor the vote and for the first time the ballots will be counted and results posted at the polling centers before being sent to the national center for tabulation.

Preliminary results are expected next week.