Weakened opposition parties decry ECN results

By Maria Kandjungu

OPPOSITION parties that once stood strong with some going as far as claiming “official opposition” status are blaming a lack of resources, infighting, alleged wrongdoing by the Electoral Commission of Namibia and the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) for their miseries.

The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), the Congress of Democrats (CoD), and South West Africa National Union (SWANU) are some of the country’s oldest parties that were once feared and strongly challenged the ruling party, especially in the years after its inception, but the parties have in recent years been recording poor results at the poll and suffered a consequent drop in the number of seats they held in the National Assembly.

Established in 1999 and led by Ben Ulenga, the once mighty CoD started off with a notable number of politicians that left the ruling SWAPO party and rocked the political scene by winning seven seats in its debut national election in 1999.

The party has, however, been recording a steady decline in votes ever since and by 2014 had lost all its seats, and is currently without representation in the National Assembly.

CoD acting president Vaino Amuthenu told Confidente that the results from past election are not true reflection of his party performance.

“We cannot say CoD have not gotten any seats from previous elections, because we cannot determine the party’s performance based on those results. We will not know how CoD truly performed till a time that results are acceptable and there is proof to prove that CoD really got zero votes. Even if we got zero or one vote, we will never be sure if these are the results of voters’ choices or if these are ECN results, even Swapo is not sure.”

Labelling the results of the recent election the “Mujoro results”, he said he was unable to comment on the status of the party at the moment, as the ECN has complicated matters. “I cannot tell you whether CoD is weak or strong, these results have made it impossible to do so.” He said this uncertainty meant that his party was not able to evaluate its performance or reflect on campaign successes.

“We cannot get a hundred votes in areas we have never campaigned in or held any meetings in, while getting seven votes in areas that we have a stronghold.

“We remain hopeful for a better tomorrow where elections are truly free and fair and transparent. We look forward to such a time where elections are run by a competent institution and not like this one. CoD is an old known party; everyone knows it and we are sure that if we get free and fair elections, we will do better. It is until such a time that CoD can really work towards getting back to its previous position,” Amuthenu stated.

RDP, which was formed in November 2007 under the leadership of Hidipo Hamutenya and Jesaya Nyamu, both former leading members of the SWAPO party and cabinet ministers, is another opposition party that gave Swapo sleepless nights upon its formation. The party at the time attracted a large numbers of votes from especially the northern regions, where traditionally the ruling party is known to have had a stronghold. RDP won eight seats in the National Assembly in 2009, thereby claiming opposition status from the CoD.

The glory was however short-lived after the party’s seats in the NA started declining, when they lost five seats during the 2014 election. RDP lost two more seats in the recent election.

RDP president Mike Kavekotora, who acknowledged that inner-party squabbles had an effect on the party’s performance, also blamed their weak performance at the polls on the use of the EVMs and the way the ECN handled the elections, saying “illegalities and mishaps” that were reported during the election greatly impacted the results.

“To tell you the truth, those who rigged the election want to use the party squabbles as an excuse and say it is the reason we performed poorly, but I disagree. Disagreements within the party did negatively affect the party but it was however not the main reason.”

He said the extent of the impact of the squabble was tested during the campaigns, especially in Oshakati, Rundu and Otjimbingwe, where they had a good turnout, making it “highly unlikely and simply impossible” for them to only get the votes recorded by the ECN.

He said the system kept changing throughout the counting process and at some point the number of their votes were reduced.

Kavekotora said RDP would meet with other opposition party representatives from various regions to look at different experiences and see how to go forward.

“This election has proven that young people are not going for the youth but for what you sell to the public. They are not interested in your emotional yesterday politics. They want opportunities and ways to realise their dreams,” he stated, adding that going forward RDP will focus on youth engagement, especially at universities to better understand issues important to the youth.

Founded in 1959, the South West Africa National Union (SWANU) is Namibia oldest party. The party has however been struggling to stay afloat with it only ever managing to score one seat in parliament.

SWANU president Tangeni Iijambo blames the unequal distribution of resources to parties during the campaign, which according to him, created an uneven playing field by giving some parties more resources to have a wider reach than others. He also blamed the ECN for the constant poor performance.

“The playing field has never been levelled. They know that SWANU is the best alternative for the Namibian economy and it is made to remain down and give an impression that it is weak and dying. We will continue to educate our people,” said Iijambo.

The opposition however appeared optimistic that the youth are engaging in politics with a view to bringing about change, and can make informed decisions when it comes to voting. “They know what is going on and they are voting based on that. They are voting on issues and not on loyalty of parties.”