Oshakati rally a sign of Swapo dominance

..large crowds don’t  indicate the voting intentions-analysts

By Eliaser Ndeyanale

HYPE, optimism and excitement in Swapo’s individual presidential contest seem to have dissipated following Swapo’s massive turnout at the party’s star rally at Oshakati on Sunday.

While there were uncertainties as to whether people would fill up the stadium because of apparent divisions in the ruling party, all indications are that people are still firmly behind the 59-year-old former liberation movement.

When Swapo presidential candidate Hage Geingob arrived at the stadium – which is situated just a stone’s throw from the University of Namibia’s Oshakati campus – the crowd erupted as Ndilimani Cultural Troops belted out their new release: ‘Hage shaautuna’.

Geingob who was driving a grey Jeep used the Oshakati rally to flex the party’s muscles and demonstrate its strength in number before voters head to the polls on 27 November. He urged Namibians to give the party another five-year term to “unite the people” and “grow the economy.”

Swapo is facing arguably the toughest election in its history, with nine presidential hopefuls – Including a long-time Swapo member Dr Panduleni Itula, who is running as an independent candidate.

Itula’s sudden solid following in the early days of the campaign created hype and excitement but political

analyst Graham Hopwood cautions  that large number of crowds do not necessarily indicate the voting intentions of “the silent majority”.

“Therefore, one has to be careful about assuming that well-attended rallies automatically translate into large voter turnouts for that party or candidate. In 2009, well-attended RDP rallies did not automatically mean that the party would pose a challenge for Swapo,” he noted. Hopwood observed though that the crowds at rallies this year have been larger than for the past two elections.

”Judging from the visuals I have seen, Swapo has been able to organise by far the biggest rallies – especially at Oshakati and Rundu. PDM’s gatherings also look bigger than at recent elections.

“Considering that he entered the presidential contest quite late, Dr. Itula has also drawn some significant crowds. It was encouraging to see that three of the political campaigns were active in the north last weekend but there were no clashes or incidents of intimidation as far as I know.”

He added that the size of the political rallies tend to indicate whether the parties have managed to organise and enthuse their core supporters. The signs so far are that Swapo, PDM – and to some extent the Landless People’s Movement – and Itula have done well on this score.

Hopwood further stated that parties were using the visuals of their rallies and events on social media to show that they are real contenders – a party can emphasise its significance and attract the interest of voters simply by demonstrating that it is a force to be reckoned with.

“This is the effect that the visuals of Dr. Itula’s first two rallies in Windhoek and Walvis Bay had – they showed that he needed to be taken seriously. This is a sign that the old days when the former Owamboland was regarded as a no-go zone for the opposition are over.

“I don’t think the fundamental nature of Namibian politics has changed since 1994. So, Swapo remains the dominant party and is likely to claim a clear victory, although possibly with a lower share of the vote than in 2014.

“Dr. Itula’s candidacy has set the cat among the pigeons in the presidential race and he could conceivably take votes from President Geingob but also opposition candidates. However, Swapo and its official candidate remain the dominant presences at this election,” he opined.

Professor Henning Melber, who closely follows trends in Namibian politics, opined that the big turnout at Swapo rallies – especially in the traditional stronghold of the ‘Four O-regions’ – were a usual sign of election campaigning.

And since Dr Itula, despite his claimed “independence” also remains adamant that he is a Swapo member (and from the region), he is considered part of an extended entertainment programme. “I think people are curious to watch his performance. But it is difficult to draw any conclusions as to the extent of support he manages to secure when it comes to voting.

He added that Dr Itula does not stand a good chance of winning the election.

“In the end, the official Swapo candidate nominated by the party will be elected by a majority of the party supporters.

He believes that at the end of the day, the salient question will be how much Geingob scores and if the result signifies a clear sign of lost trust and confidence in him.

“The same applies to the party’s election result for the National Assembly. Voters articulated frustration in earlier elections too, and factional rivalries existed also five years ago. But for the first time the factional rivalries seem to offer an opportunity to vote for another presidential candidate who claims to be ‘independent’ while at the same time being Swapo.

“This makes it interesting, but I do not think it will mean a decisive turn in politics. However, as from now on, we can expect a marked increase in ‘independent’ candidates at local and regional elections too.”

Asked about the implications of the massive Swapo rallies at Oshakati and Rundu, Melber said he does not think there is any deviation from what voters witnessed in earlier election campaigns. He believes Itula presents no real threat to Geingob, but the share of votes Itula takes would be an indication of the level of Geingob’s support among party members and the wider public.

“If he has a big loss of votes, his authority will be damaged and Team Hage will have to face a tougher second term in office. It might then also impact on the debates [as to] who in future will take over the leadership positions, and the inner party power struggles might increase over the succession debates,” argued.

The political columnist Ndumba Kamwanyah said Swapo needs huge turnouts at its rallies more than Dr Itula as a show of strength in the face of Dr Itula’s candidacy.

”Thus why you are seeing the party pulling out all the stops to bus in all their members and supporters from all corners of the country. Less crowd for Swapo is bad news, because it would definitely tip the momentum towards Dr Itula, a candidate with party backing.”

Asked if he believes Itula stands a good chance to win the election, Kamwanyah said “Nothing is over till it’s over. Judging from the crowds – though relatively small in comparison to Swapo’s – that he has been attracting to his rallies, he is a force to reckon with.

“You know he is facing a Goliath in the form of Swapo as the ruling party with massive resources, state machinery and deep history behind its back. Yet he seems to be making Swapo run for its money. Swapo knows that, and that’s why it is not taking any chances.”

He further stated that massive Swapo rallies are good news for Swapo because they somehow give an assurance and indication of support, especially at the party level, although it might be a different story at the presidential level. He added that not everybody in the crowd necessarily supports Geingob, as some people are there for the sake of the party, not the presidential candidate.

Kamwanya says it’s hard to see how Itula can defeat the incumbent, for many reasons but the threat may be real. Asked whom he thinks stands a good chance of winning the presidential election, Kamwanyah said Geingob, as incumbent president of Swapo and the country has an advantage over Itula. Therefore Geingob is likely to win. “But never rule out a shock defeat, especially if the youth turn out on election day,” he cautioned.