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Namibia: SWAPO’s dominance challenged 0

“Man RDP!” sighs Martha Hamukoto, sitting on the steps of a Windhoek office block. She is lamenting the breakaway faction, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).

The party formed after a split with the ruling party almost two years ago and will be contesting the elections for the first time this year.

On Wednesday night 25-year-old Hamukoto and 46 others made the strenuous 900 kilometre journey from the northern area of Oshakati to the country’s capital to replace the mandatory voting cards they had lost. A brand new card in hand, she shakes her head. “We still mainly believe in SWAPO.”

While the country’s ruling party is still a favourite among the fourteen parties contesting the Namibian elections, its absolute dominance is under pressure from the breakaway movement.

The breakaway RDP, started in 2007 by Hidipo Hamutenya, has managed to divide the South-West African People’s Organisation’s (SWAPO) powerbase and stir up unprecedented emotions.

Despite the many tensions between the two parties, with almost daily clashes at party rallies, observers do not expect a violent election. “Namibian elections are mostly peaceful, we don’t foresee surprises,” says Graham Hopwood, political analyst and director of the Institute for Public Policy Research.

But because the campaign has been livelier than ever, he expects a high turnout of 75 percent or more.

Another landslide victory is predicted for SWAPO. This would mean a second five-year stint in office for incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba. But it is not clear whether SWAPO will maintain its two-thirds majority (currently 55 out of 72 elected MP’s).

“SWAPO has been in power too long, the public is fed up,” RDP Secretary-General Jesaya Nyamo tells IPS on the eve of the elections. “Namibia will show the dominant liberation movements of Southern Africa that time is up.”

Analysts expect the RDP to win around 15 percent of the vote, a potential that has the ruling party concerned. Hopwood says: “Unlike before, SWAPO has tried to convince voters they did a good job, instead of just relying on their struggle credentials.”

It remains to be seen if the ruling party succeeds. The RDP is expected to win considerable votes in urban areas and among the Kwamyama people of the Ovambo tribe. They constitute half of Namibia’s population of two million and live in the rural north of Namibia. This has been SWAPO’s traditional, and formerly united, stronghold.

“There could be violence in this area when the results are announced,” fears Naomi Kisting of the Namibian Institute of Democracy that trained 300 election observers. “During workshops in the north we witnessed considerably more tensions than in other parts of the country. There was heated debate between participants and emotions would erupt.”

Meanwhile, Hamukoto and the others who travelled from northern Namibia will be travelling back to their homes keen on voting on 27 and 28 November.

While tensions run high, the choice of which party to vote for still remains an easy one for some. “SWAPO liberated Namibia and is the only party that contributed something in the past twenty years. They deserve to win,” says Simon Negumbo (40).

He will join Hamukoto and the others from his village on the long journey home, so they can vote.

By Servaas Van den BoschIPS 

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