Politics, African elections

2009: Slicing the electotral pie

2009 ushers in a political Judgement Day. Elections for President and Parliament take place later in the year with Regional and Municipal elections penciled in for 2010. This period will solidify the political map trough 2014 and 2015. As always, the question will be whether any opposition party or alliance of parties can muster a credible challenge to SWAPO. Thus far, it seems not.

The current hope of those who want a stiff challenge to SWAPO is the Rally for Democracy and Progress, or RDP. Recently formed by a number of disgruntled SWAPO members, many of them former high ranking SWPO members, the RDP is the current lightning rod of Namibian politics. Some consider its creation as a political watershed on par with Namibia's Independence. However, one national publication recently mused whether the RDP wasn't “The party that seems to be in decline before it's really even started.”

In the arena where it counts – elections – the RDP seems to be taking the latter path. Since its formation the RDP has participated in 2.5 elections; a by-election for a Regional Councillor in the Ohangwena Region, a municipal election in Omuthiya in the Oshikoto Region, and a by-election for a Regional Councillor in the Khomas Region. (In this last contest the RDP withdrew at the last minute even though they had posted a candidate, and held rallies. So we have to qualify this a .5 of an election.) A cursory look at results from the Ohangwena and Oshikoto contests show a familiar pattern. SWAPO gets an overwhelming majority, while other parties divide a meager remainder. Significantly, with the exception of Namibia's first national election in 1989, this pattern holds true. In fact, since that first election, the total share of opposition votes has declined.

Within that static slice of the electoral pie held by non-SWAPO parties, it appears that the RDP made gains only against fellow members of its club. The big loser in the Ohangwena and Oshikoto elections appears to be the Congress of Democrats, or COD. The RDP won the most votes among the non-SWAPO block while the COD showed significant declines. This is not surprising as the COD, the official opposition in the current Parliament, has spent much of the past year engaged in fratricidal conflict between competing factions of the party. The result of this strife appears to be poor performance at the polls. As we turn into a new season of elections, the main question becomes whether or not the RDP, COD or any of the opposition political parties can expand into SWAPO's very, very large base.