Namibians have voted in what was is shaping up to be the toughest challenge yet for the governing SWAPO party that has ruled for three decades since independence.
President Hage Geingob, Namibia’s third leader since the sparsely populated freed itself from the shackles of apartheid South Africa in 1990, is seeking a second and final term from 1.3 million registered voters.
Geingob’s ruling SWAPO party has successfully tackled some of the problems left after decades of neglectful rule, first by Germany and then by white minority South African administrations.
SWAPO is now contending with an economy in recession for nearly three years, one of Namibia’s worst droughts and its biggest graft scandal – all of which have conspired to make this vote unexpectedly tough for Geingob, who won by 87% last time.
“I campaigned like hell but if I lose I will accept that. I am a democrat,” Geingob told reporters shortly after voting, while Popular Democratic Movement opposition party leader McHenry Venaani said he was “very confident of winning.”
Geingob faces nine challengers including Panduleni Itula, a dentist-turned-politician who is a SWAPO member but running as an independent. Itula is popular with young people, nearly half of whom are unemployed.
Concurrent legislative polls will elect 96 members of parliament, testing SWAPO’s 77-seat majority.
Under SWAPO, the former guerrilla movement that fought for independence, the proportion of Namibians living below the poverty line fell by three quarters, from nearly 70 percent in 1993 to 17 percent in 2016, according to figures from the World Bank.
The economy, though, has been marred by a drought that ravaged agricultural export crops, as well as by unprofitably low prices for Namibia’s main hard commodities, uranium and diamonds.
South African occupation
1915 – South Africa takes over territory during First World War.
1920 – League of Nations grants South Africa mandate to govern South West Africa (SWA).
1946 – United Nations refuses to allow South Africa to annex South West Africa. South Africa refuses to place SWA under UN trusteeship.
1958 – Herman Toivo Ya Toivo and others create the opposition Ovamboland People’s Congress, which becomes the South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo) in 1960.
1961 – UN General Assembly demands South Africa terminate the mandate and sets SWA’s independence as an objective.
1966 – Swapo launches armed struggle against South African occupation.
1968 – South West Africa officially renamed Namibia by UN General Assembly.
1973 – UN General Assembly recognises Swapo as “sole legitimate representative” of Namibia’s people.
1988 – South Africa agrees to Namibian independence in exchange for removal of Cuban troops from Angola.
1989 – UN-supervised elections for a Namibian Constituent Assembly.
1990 March – Namibia becomes independent, with Sam Nujoma as first president.
1994 – South African exclave of Walvis Bay turned over to Namibia.
A scandal in which two ministers were alleged to have conspired to dole out fishing licences to Iceland’s biggest fishing firm, Samherji, in return for kickbacks has also taken the shine off the ruling party.
But loyalty to the former resistance movement remains high.
“Namibia has gone through a very terrible time,” Leevylee Abrahams said after casting his vote.
“But I’m voting for continuity because I believe that this government can really improve the lives of people, given a chance again.”
Results are expected in 48 hours.
Additional reporting by Reuters