Cablegate: Swapo Crushes Opposition Again in Okahandja by-Elections

DE RUEHWD #0166/01 0561306
R 251305Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 09 WINDHOEK 414; B) 09 WINDHOEK 453

1. (SBU) Summary. Three months after Namibia's contested National
Assembly and presidential elections, residents of the Okahandja
constituency returned to the polls on February 24 to vote for a
regional councilor. In another year, this by-election for a small
constituency would have passed without notice, but given the
attention on the embattled Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN)
and a dynamic roster of candidates, the by-election was a symbolic
test of the state of political affairs in Namibia. Preliminary
results from the ECN indicate that Steve Biko Boois, the SWAPO
candidate, received more than twice the number of votes of his
closest competitor, Christophine Paulus, who represented a
coalition of opposition parties. End summary.


The Rematch


2. (U) On February 24, residents of the Okahandja constituency,
which includes a town of 20,000 people and nearby commercial farms,
voted for a regional councilor. (Note: Regional councilors sit in
Namibia's upper house of parliament, the National Council. End
note.) The by-election was called after the previous councilor
died in office in December 2009. Early figures released by the ECN
show an average voter turnout in Okahandja. The numbers surprised
many political analysts, who had predicted large crowds after the
race became labeled a "rematch" between the ruling South West
African People's Organization (SWAPO) and the Rally for Democracy
and Progress (RDP).

3. (SBU) Although SWAPO easily claimed Okahandja in last November's
general elections, its candidate in Okahandja, Steve Biko Boois,
faced a significant challenge from both a coalition of seven
opposition parties, which backed the RDP's Christophine Paulus, and
from Ben Katamila, a popular community activist, who was expelled
from SWAPO when he disagreed with its endorsement of Boois.
Katamila was, in fact, Namibia's first ever independent candidate
to seek national office. The fourth candidate, Ehnfried Muroua of
the South West African National Union (SWANU), was largely ignored;
analysts agreed that he was not expected to pose a real threat to

4. (SBU) Much has been made of the opposition parties' ability to
pull together an alliance, an outcome they have rarely achieved in
the past. In the general elections, 14 political parties ran for
seats in the National Assembly, and 12 parties presented
presidential candidates. Analysts compared this unlikely coalition
to the opposition's successful efforts in October to overturn a
decision made by the ECN to give the tender to print ballots for
the general elections to a SWAPO-owned company (ref A). Not taking
any chances, SWAPO dedicated considerable time and resources to the
campaign in Okhandja, including arranging for President Pohamba and
former president and founding father Sam Nujoma to address its
final political rally on February 21.

5. (SBU) The Okahandja constituency has been controlled by SWAPO
since the first regional elections in 1992. Nevertheless, the
opposition was optimistic it could exploit growing voter
frustration over a lack of water, sanitation, electricity, land,
healthcare, and job opportunities, and it made those concerns the
central theme of Paulus's campaign. Katamila, the independent,
started his campaign strongly, but his support dwindled in recent
weeks as his supporters appeared increasingly uncomfortable
supporting an individual over a party.

6. (U) On February 25, the ECN announced preliminary results from
the by-elections, giving a handy victory to Boois with 3,158 votes.
The opposition coalition came in second, with Paulus winning 1,551
votes. Katamila won 480, and SWANU's Muroua won 51.

WINDHOEK 00000166 002 OF 002

--------------------------------------------- --------

Litmus Test for the Electoral Commission of Namibia

--------------------------------------------- --------

7. (SBU) The Okahandja by-election was not only a face-off between
SWAPO and the RDP, but also a test for the ECN. The electoral body
is being challenged in Namibia's High Court by nine opposition
parties, including the RDP, which dispute both the results of the
November 2009 National Assembly and Presidential Elections and the
ECN's administrative handling of those elections (Ref B). Some
political analysts argued the by-elections were a chance for the
ECN to redeem itself after months of criticism by the opposition.
(Note: The case is expected to be heard on March 3 and 4, at which
time the High Court has said it will announce its decision to order
a recount; call for fresh elections; or accept the November
results. End note.)

8. (SBU) The allegations made in the court challenge led several
opposition parties, including the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance
(DTA), to boycott the Okahandja elections. One DTA leader told
Poloff that his party could not justify participating in the
by-elections when the ECN had done nothing to rectify its mistakes
from the November elections. Although the ECN was criticized
during the pre-election phase in Okahandja for bungling the voters'
roll and for deciding to again use "verification centers" to
tabulate results, it has not been condemned for its overall
handling of the Okahandja by-elections. In fact, one RDP supporter
told Poloff on February 25 that his party was "happy" with the
ECN's efforts.



9. (SBU) The Okahandja by-election was the first electoral face-off
between SWAPO and the opposition since the elections in November.
Expectations were high that the opposition-- this time working as
a coalition-- might have a chance to defeat SWAPO, which would have
led credence to its claims that the general elections were flawed.
The clear win for Boois, however, seems to confirm SWAPO's
continuing strength. The opposition is likely to re-strategize
before regional and local authority elections take place later this
year, although its unclear at this point if they will revisit the
coalition approach.

© Scoop Media

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