Cablegate: Namibian Election Primer
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHWD #0433/01 3291312
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251312Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY WINDHOEK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0879
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 WINDHOEK 000433
DEPT FOR AF/S (GWYN)
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM WA
SUBJECT: NAMIBIAN ELECTION PRIMER
1. Summary. Namibia will hold its fourth National Assembly and
Presidential elections on November 27 and 28. Fourteen political
parties are contesting 72 National Assembly seats, and a record 12
candidates will contest the presidency. The ruling South West
African People's Organization (SWAPO) party is widely expected to
retain its parliamentary majority, albeit with a somewhat reduced
margin, while the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) is expected
to emerge as the new "official" (leading) opposition party.
However, a dearth of accurate polling data makes definite
predictions difficult. SWAPO's presidential candidate, Hifikepunye
Pohamba, is expected to be re-elected for another five-year term.
2. This cable is the fourteenth piece in a series on Namibia's
preparations for the November 2009 elections. End Summary.
Scramble for Parliamentary Seats
3. On November 27 and 28, Namibians will vote for 72 members of the
National Assembly based on a party list system. Political parties
have ranked their candidates, and voters will select a party rather
than voting directly for a particular candidate. Parliamentary seats
will be distributed on a proportional representation basis. The
total number of votes cast will be divided by 72 to determine the
quota necessary for winning one seat. The number of votes cast for
a political party then will be divided by the quota to determine the
number of seats for a given party.
4. SWAPO is all but certain to maintain its ruling party status.
Despite alegations by the opposition of corruption and
mismanagement, SWAPO remains popular. The ruling party has
benefitted from legislation that allocates state resources for
campaigning according to the number of National Assembly seats a
party holds, in addition to the party's already sizable war chest.
Nevertheless, it is not clear if SWAPO will be able to hold on to
its two-thirds majority-- the representation needed to amend the
constitution. SWAPO currently holds 55 seats (or 75 percent) in the
National Assembly, and most commentators expect the party to hold on
to at least 66 percent (48 seats or precisely two-thirds).
SWAPO versus RDP
5. There are 14 registered political parties, but the spotlight will
focus on the showdown between SWAPO and the largely untested RDP.
Formed in 2007 by prominent SWAPO insiders and now led by former
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hidipo Hamutenya, the RDP has mounted
an ambitious campaign with limited resources. The party hopes to
win between 20 and 30 seats, but many pundits project their showing
is likelier to be closer to 5 to 10 seats. In any case, the RDP is
expected to emerge as the new "official" (leading) opposition party.
6. Without scientific polling in Namibia, it is difficult to say
from where the RDP is taking its support-- SWAPO, the other
opposition parties or both. SWAPO has clearly lost some of its more
prominent members to the RDP, but the other opposition parties have
struggled to raise adequate funds and organize campaign efforts.
Moreover, three of the larger opposition parties, the Congress of
Democrats (COD), the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), and the
Republican Party (RP), have suffered from well-publicized internal
squabbles that have weakened them and resulted in a departure of
some of their members.
Crowded Presidential Race
7. Namibia's President is directly elected. A record 12 candidates,
including President Pohamba, have entered the race. Pohamba, who in
2004 defeated six other candidates by receiving 76 percent of the
vote, is expected to win re-election handily. His most serious
competition comes from Hamutenya, who lost to Pohamba in 2004, when
the two vied to lead SWAPO at the party's controversial congress.
8. Many observers note that Pohamba has also benefited from his
incumbent's status. He has been able to legally access state
resources, such as transport and staff support, during the campaign.
He has enjoyed widespread press coverage, while the opposition
candidates have complained of little access to air time on
state-owned media outlets. Pohamba remains popular throughout the
country, particularly in populous northern regions of Namibia.
9. Namibian politics is centered around personalities rather than
policies, but most of the candidates have highlighted poverty
reduction, education, unemployment, and land reform in party
manifestos and speeches. The opposition has also focused on
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corruption as one of its leading concerns.
The Born Frees
10. Much has been made of the "born frees," the generation of
eligible voters born after Namibia's independence in 1990. This
group, which will be participating in its first national election,
does not have the memories of the pre-liberation era. At least 20
percent of the electorate falls between the ages of 18 and 24.
Analysts will be watching to see if SWAPO's liberation rhetoric,
which is at the heart of its political platform, resonates with
these younger voters.
11. Unlike previous Namibian elections, incidents of political
violence have marred the lead-up to the polling days. SWAPO and the
RDP have faced off several times around the country, particularly in
the northern Omusati region, where SWAPO members have tried to
prevent the RDP from campaigning and holding political rallies.
While none of these confrontations-- mostly rock throwing, fist
fights and vehicle chases-- has resulted in casualties, many are
troubled by the incidents and political leadership on both sides has
repeatedly called for tolerance. The police have been praised by
both parties for demonstrating a swift, even-handed, non-partisan
response. Hoping to avoid confrontational rallies, some parties,
such as the RDP, have also focused on new strategies for
disseminating their message, including, text messages, websites, and
12. In addition to violence and intimidation, opposition parties
have also complained about a lack of media access on state-owned
broadcasters. In October, the RDP and COD attempted to obtain a
high court order to force the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation
(NBC) to provide equal free airtime to all political parties,
instead of a proportional system that largely benefitted the ruling
SWAPO party. NBC responded by cancelling the free airtime
altogether. The new policy angered the opposition, which claimed,
unlike SWAPO, it did not possess the financial resources to pay for
Electoral Commission's Bungles
13. The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) has spent much of the
campaign season in hot water. It angered opposition parties in
October by awarding the tender to print the election ballots to a
SWAPO-owned company. The ECN was forced to re-advertise the tender,
which eventually went to a South African company, after the
opposition threatened a boycott and legal action over the original
14. The ECN also generated controversy when it released the results
of its registration efforts, announcing in September that 290,000
new voters registered for this year's National Assembly and
Presidential election, bringing the total electorate to 1.3 million
voters. That figure aroused suspicion because in 2004, 82,000 new
voters registered and 818,395 Namibians cast their vote. The
electoral body has admitted the voters roll contained duplicate
entries, ghost voters, and even a few Angolan citizens, but promised
that adequate checks and balances and security measures would
prevent ineligible voters from participating in the elections, much
less voting multiple times. The voters' roll was scrubbed by ECN
officials and political parties and the ECN revised the estimated
electorate to 1,181,835, but many remain skeptical of the list's
15. Embassy Windhoek has coordinated with European diplomatic
missions to send 35 election observers around the country for the
two days of voting. Other countries with a diplomatic presence,
such as China (three observers) are also expected to participate.
In addition, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), SADC
Parliamentary Forum, the Electoral Commission Forum for SADC, the
African Union and the Pan-African Parliament have brought
delegations. South Africa's ANC, Mozambique's FRELIMO, Angola's
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MPLA, and Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF-- all close to SWAPO-- will also
observe. Civil society will be represented by a large group from the
Namibian Council of Churches and a coalition led by the Namibia
Institute of Democracy (funded by a U.S. congressional earmark).
Political party representatives will also be on hand at many of the
1200 fixed and mobile polling stations.
16. Many expect the election days to go smoothly, possibly with some
limited incidents of violence and other irregularities. Given the
opposition and civil society's distrust of SWAPO and the ECN, legal
challenges during the post-election period are likely. However, for
the most part, this election should not spark many surprises. SWAPO
will almost certainly perform strongly, and Pohamba should be
re-elected president with a comfortable margin. The main
uncertainties are whether SWAPO will retain its two-thirds majority
in the National Assembly and how well the RDP will perform.