Opposition Stuck in the Sand


By Kuvee Kangueehi Windhoek Leading Namibian political analyst Bill Lindeke says Namibian opposition political parties are “stuck in the sand” and that the ruling party Swapo will continue to dominate politics for at least the next decade. Making a presentation based on a recent study done by himself and professor Andre du Pisani, Lindeke said Namibia finds itself in the same situation as South Africa and Botswana, where the ruling party can easily obtain a two-thirds majority during elections. Lindeke said the situation is an irony, as the three countries are regarded as the most democratic countries in Africa and yet the ruling parties are very dominant. “Namibia is considered to be a consolidated democracy and together with South Africa and Botswana enjoys a free press, no intimidation and little or no violence during elections compared to countries like Nigeria and Congo.” The political analyst said the Swapo Party looks immovable and if elections were conducted today, Swapo would win the elections with a two-thirds majority again. He revealed that according to a survey done by the Institute for Public Policy Research, called Afro Barometer, 69% of the Namibian population is happy with Namibia’s democracy, while 60% has trust in the ruling party. However, some good news for the opposition parties is that people that are not connected to political parties – that can be considered as independent voters – have doubled. He said these voters, who are also known as the swing voters, have been growing and there is a possibility for opposition parties to capture their votes. The bad news for the opposition is that “the current President is more popular than the founding president and that indicates more public trust in the ruling party”, he added. The former political science lecturer at the University of Namibia said Namibia has a dominant party system which can be attributed mainly to the fact that the ruling party is largely viewed as the party that brought the country’s political independence. “This type of situation is evident in countries that have recently attained independence and basically Namibia and the Swapo Party are still enjoying their honeymoon period.” He said another factor contributing to the dominant party system is that in Namibia, because of the previous colonial regime’s strategy of divide and rule, many of the opposition political parties are fragmented and isolated and thus cannot put up a strong opposition against the ruling party. Lindeke further noted that the manner in which Namibia attained its independence is “special” and the country still continues to receive special attention from the international community. “Resolution 435 and United Nations supervised elections were all special and Namibia, sixteen years after independence, continues to get a substantial amount of donor funding.” He noted that this situation is evidenced by the fact that Namibia has three times more the number of embassies than Botswana. Lindeke said all these factors coupled with the reasonably good economic growth of the country allow the ruling party to remain dominant. “Although Namibia has an annual economic growth rate of approximately 3% compared to Botswana’s 8%, the government has not yet been forced to cut its budget on crucial areas such as education and health.” The professor said that Namibia does not find itself in a debt situation and the Swapo Party appears to be managing the country well. “Namibia together with Tunisia, Botswana, South Africa and Mauritius remain in the top five of the index in terms of policy.” Lindeke explained that because the Namibian economy is very small it allows the ruling party to remain dominant. He said in other countries where the economy is bigger, the private sector sometimes aligns itself with an opposition party and funds it and supports it during elections. He said this is however impossible in Namibia because the private sector continues to depend on the government to survive and flourish. “The government remains the biggest consumer and if any private company attaches itself to an opposition party, it will be neutralized.” He said Swapo Party is in control of the biggest tenders, Black Economic Empowerment deals and parastatals. “The reality is that the Swapo Party is the only party that can provide you with a job and not the opposition.” Almost painting a gloomy picture for opposition parties, Lindeke said the Swapo Party has also co-opted all the political space and there is little room for the opposition. “The ruling party during the colonial struggle became friends with the East, namely, China, Russia, as well as some European countries such Sweden, Finland and Norway, plus Cuba. After independence, Swapo Party made new friends with the West, namely, the United States and Britain.” He said this has left the opposition parties with no political space and no room to attack Swapo as they have monopolized the political space and have huge international support. “Strategically after independence, the Queen was invited to Namibia and the country is a good Commonwealth member.” Lindeke said the civil society remains almost the only institution to challenge government but the fact that 70% of the voters are Swapo supporters makes the civil society weak. “The church is probably the only institution big enough to challenge government but they do not want that confrontation.” He added that there are also no strong personalities such as sportspersons or business tycoons who have indicated political ambitions. “In the DRC, we have the tycoon Bemba who has challenged for presidency while in Liberia we had soccer star George Weah who also contested the presidential elections.” In conclusion, Lindeke said the opposition parties, given the current conditions, will continue spinning but they will be stuck in the sand as they have little attraction. The presentation was attended by all opposition political parties who expressed their views on the current situation they find themselves in. The study, which is titled “Stuck in the Sand”, was done by the two professors for the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and will be released next year.