Namibia: ‘Swapo Is the Devil They Know’

POLITICAL analysts say Swapo’s win in the Moses //Garoëb constituency by-election is not surprising as voters are likely to stick with “the devil they know” in the absence of meaningful alternatives in Namibian politics and growing voter apathy.

This is despite the socio-economic challenges they face under Swapo rule.

This comes as Swapo candidate Stefanus Ndengu was elected as the new councillor for the constituency in Windhoek during Friday’s by-election which saw a dismal about one in 10 registered voters casting their ballots.

Ndengu is replacing fellow Swapo member Aili Venonya who passed away in October last year. The turnout when Venonya won in 2020 was 34%.

‘NO SIGN OF CONFIDENCE’

Political analyst Henning Melber says the election result is not a sign of confidence in Swapo, but rather a rude awakening for and warning to opposition parties.

“If they (opposition parties) continue to create the impression that they are just more of the same, voters may as well stay with the devil they know,” he says.

Only 11,5% of the 42 135 registered voters took part in the election.

Ndengu claimed victory with 2 970 votes, while Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) candidate Moses Mwandingi received 1 270 votes, Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) candidate Shinime Nakale got 267 votes, and independent candidates Moses Hengobe and Ndalifilwa Hashoongo received 243 and 72 votes, respectively.

Melber says the low voter turnout could be due to many residents of the constituency still being on holiday and voters seeing no point in voting for a representative who promises to improve their living conditions but doesn’t follow through.

“It may well be assumed that residents in the constituency are still in the north, other regions or the coastal towns. More likely, the massive decline highlights a growing voter fatigue sparked by disillusionment and frustration in the absence of meaningful alternatives in Namibian politics,” he says.

90 DAYS

According to the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN’s) returning officer for the Moses //Garoëb constituency by-elections, Rakondjerua Kavari, the by-election took place during the holidays because they are mandated to fill vacant seats within 90 days.

“The law is clear that once a councillor dies (or vacates their seat) the seat must be filled within 90 days. The ECN didn’t decide to hold the elections over the holiday. We had to do it within 90 days,” he says.

Melber says the election results in 2019 and 2020 signalled that a growing number of people feel it is time for a warning signal to Swapo for its lack of delivery.

“They voted for opposition parties and individuals, notably also a range of independent candidates, instead.

“This was more a kind of yellow card rather than a red card, leaving room for staying on the field if behaving. While it was widely considered a fundamental shift in political contestants, it was a window of opportunity for the electorate to test other contesters,” he says.

Melber says the elected new kids on the block have squandered to a large extent the confidence and trust put in them by the electorate.

He says scandals as well as party infighting suggest that opposition party and independent candidates are in many aspects more of the same.

“While it is difficult to show meaningful delivery in terms of significant changes in the daily lives of the people within the limited period of two years, more was expected and could have been delivered. This is true also for the Windhoek municipality, where the seismic political change of the last elections has not turned into much measurable results – except symbolic tokenism,” Melber says.

STRONG SENTIMENTS

Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah says he is not surprised that a Swapo candidate won.

He says the Moses //Garoëb constituency is a Swapo stronghold just like any other informal settlement in Windhoek.

He says the support Swapo gets from rural and informal areas is a reflection of Namibia’s political landscape.

“The Swapo party is strong in rural areas and the informal settlements in Windhoek are mostly inhabited by rural dwellers. However, looking at the low voter turnout, we are faced with voter fatigue.

“People are tired of going to the polls, but nothing comes out to improve their living conditions,” Kamwanyah says.

“Elections are developmental tools, but when their outcomes fail to deliver, why should people go to the polls?,” he says.

According to him, people keep voting for Swapo, because they don’t understand the social contract they enter into with the people and political parties they vote for.

“But also due to strong loyalty and the credentials the Swapo party brought independence. Those sentiments are still strong in rural areas,” Kamwanyah says.

Another political analyst, Rui Tyitende says despite the fact that Swapo is “dysfunctional”, the opposition needs to earn the right to govern.

“Despite its internal problems and image issues, Swapo remains electorally dominant, and it will not be an easy undertaking for the opposition parties to dislodge Swapo, but it is nonetheless not impossible,” he says.

‘I WILL WORK WITH ALL PARTIES’

Meanwhile, Ndengu says he would like to work with other political parties to address issues the constituency are faced with.

“I want to invite my co-contesters to come and address the issues facing our people in the constituency. The office is not for Swapo, it’s for everyone.

“They should come together so we can solve the issues together. We need to engage one another for the betterment of our people,” he says.

Ndengu says the victory is not only for Swapo, but for everyone in the Moses //Garoëb constituency.

“People are experiencing challenges – especially with sanitation and water. There is also a need for a taxi rank on the side of Hakahana.

“I am going to work with the people. The plan I have is to engage with the business community in the constituency and Khomas at large to generate fees and come up with pipelines or anything to assist our people,” he says.

IPC NOT SHAKEN

Meanwhile, IPC spokesperson Immanuel Nashinge says the party is happy with the outcome, which shows there is room for improvement.

“Generally by-elections are always disappointing, and we have a serious challenge of voters upcast, and the fact that the elections have to happen on the day the ECN was given by law. We just have to settle on 6 January.

“Having it so early has also contributed to the low turnout of voters, but we are happy with the results. Some people were on holiday, but still managed to go and vote,” he says.

Nashinge says although the party has been in existence for less than three years, the impact it has had on the ground and the public’s confidence are promising.

“We are looking forward to the upcoming elections in the Oshana region, and it is also a determining factor as we move forward to 2024’s elections.

“Congratulations to those who made it. The only worry we have is that citizens are not interested in voting. One wonders if they do not have required documents to vote or if it’s the mentality of ‘I don’t care,’ he says.

Nashinge says the results show that the IPC is here to stay.

“Compared to previous elections, we went down with 2 000 votes in 2020 elections, and Swapo went down with 3 000 votes. That speaks volumes.

“There are few things we have not done better, but we have gone the extra mile, and we have brought change in our political arena,” he says.

Nashinge says the IPC has always been part of the community – unlike some political parties which only visit communities during elections.

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