WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA —
Namibia's ruling SWAPO party was expected to extend its near quarter-century in power in elections on Friday as voters and investors looked for a steady hand to guide the uranium and diamond-producer through a global commodities slump.
The former liberation movement turned governing party has won widespread support at the helm of one of Africa's healthiest economies through its investment in railways and other infrastructure, and provision of free primary education.
It has faced some dissent in recent years - more than 100 protesters chanted slogans calling for land distribution in the capital last week - and a growing challenge from the resurgent opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance.
But analysts say those are unlikely to be enough to threaten SWAPO's current two-third parliamentary majority in the southern African country.
“We want to propel Namibia to greater prosperity. We want to emancipate our people from economic hardships,” Prime Minister Hage Geingob, a SWAPO stalwart, told thousands of voters in the north as he campaigned to become the country's third president.
Current President Hifikepunye Pohamba can not stand again because of a constitutional two-term limit.
“There are problems but not that bad. SWAPO has done a lot and can still do more,” insurance salesman Willem Xoagub, told Reuters.
Namibia has ambitions to become the world's second largest uranium producer after Kazakhstan with construction of its Chinese-backed Husab mine forecast to start production in the second half of 2015.
It has been one of the world's best performing economies and growth is forecast to rise to 5 percent in 2014 from 4.4 percent last year as construction in the mining and energy sectors underpin growth.
But lower metal prices, especially for key export uranium, poses a risk, according to Namibia's central bank.
SWAPO, in power since independence in 1990, has mounted a highly visible publicity campaign, including two massive billboards towering over motorists and a banner strung across Independence Avenue in the capital.
The fact that Geingob is from the minority Damara ethnic group is also seen as enhancing his allure among voters in the diverse country of 2.3 million people and at least 11 ethnic groups.
“It is time for change. I am optimistic for the future under his leadership,” said 27-year-old banker Lucky Shindume.