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Namibia: Ruling SWAPO jittery over independent candidates

SWAPO party’s dominion over Namibian politics began at independence in March 1990 when the former liberation movement won the first democratic elections but its stranglehold is slowly being tested.Over the past 29 years, the ruling party has consolidated its dominance, with little challenge from the opposition.

The party commands popular support across all age groups, with its strong base in the north-central regions.

As has become tradition, SWAPO is again confident of cruising to victory in the upcoming general elections set for November.

There is a slight problem, though.

One of SWAPO’s own has broken ranks with the party and has decided to contest against President Hage Geingob as an independent.

SWAPO is currently in panic mode since one of its prominent members, medical doctor Panduleni Iitula, has decided to run for the Namibian presidency as an independent candidate.

 Iitula, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, said he launched his bid for the presidency on October 26. By the end of March 2019, he had already collected 7,500 signatures, 500 from each of the 14 regions as required by the electoral law for him to register as a candidate.

SWAPO has since declared Iitula an enemy and has threatened to expel him and his supporters from the party.

SWAPO spokeswoman Hilma Nicanor said the party has noted with dismay some people who claim to be independent candidates while masquerading as party cadres.

“The SWAPO Party distances itself and denounces with the contempt the detractors and elements in the form of a so-called independent candidate who by hook and crook is using the SWAPO party name,” Nicanor recently told journalists.

Elliot Mbako, the SWAPO regional coordinator in Khomas, has called on party members to familiarise themselves with its constitution regarding independent national presidential candidates.

He said the party does not entertain independent candidates, though he could indicate which article of the party constitutional make such provisions.

SWAPO’s anxiety over independent candidates is understandable, given that the party was shaken by the recent poll results in the Ondangwa Urban constituency where its candidate narrowly defeated independent candidate, Angeline Immanuel.

SWAPO’s Leonard Negonga took 1,936 of the 3,792 total votes with the 27-year old Angelina Immanuel taking 1,402 votes.

This is a significant result, considering that SWAPO rules the roost in the north-central regions.

University of Namibia political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah noted the trend could lead to more Namibians opting to contest for public office as independent candidates in the upcoming elections.

Political scientist Henning Melber said independent candidates may gain support since the opposition has fails to make inroads into SWAPO strongholds.

“Independent candidates with a local support base are considered to be closer to segments of the people and might mobilise votes among a frustrated potential electorate (especially in the younger generations), who otherwise might not vote at all. This would dent the authority of SWAPO as the dominant party,” Melber told Windhoek Observer.

He noted that the rise of independent candidates “is a sign that the loyalties rooted in the historical legacy and the patriotic narrative of the struggle generations become less effective among those who were not part of the anti-colonial resistance.”

“As the established hegemonic party, SWAPO considers this a much bigger risk than other smaller parties, who over the years have not been able to attract a considerable number of voters.”

Analysts at the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) noted that the emergence of independent candidates may be a trend that develops towards the holding of the regional council elections at the end of 2020.

They described Immanuel’s performance in the June 15 Ondangwa by-election as “an interesting test case” for the possible success of independent candidates in the next elections.

“Local issues and the potential for voters to switch to an independent as a protest vote may occasionally result in independents being elected to regional councils. But party politics are deeply entrenched in Namibia and voters may later revert to their traditional party allegiance,” IPPR observed.

Namibians, especially the youth, seem to have embraced the new trend of nonpartisan.  They have accused the SWAPO-led administration of neglecting young people.

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