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Namibia - Political Parties

Namibia has about 40 political groups, ranging from modern political parties to traditional groups based on tribal authority. Some represent single tribes or ethnic groups while others encompass several. Most participate in political alliances, some of which were multi-racial, with frequently shifting membership.

SWAPO is the ruling party, and all but one of the new government's first cabinet posts went to SWAPO members. Two deputy ministers were from other parties. Formerly a Marxist oriented movement, SWAPO now espoused the principles of multiparty democracy and a mixed economy. SWAPO had been a legal political party since its formation and was cautiously active in Namibia, although before implementation of the UN Plan, it was forbidden to hold meetings of more than 20 people, and its leadership was subject to frequent detention. SWAPO drew its strength principally, but not exclusively, from within the Ovambo tribe. In December 1976, the UN General Assembly recognized SWAPO as "the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people," a characterization other internal parties did not accept.

The ruling party's demonstrated unwillingness so far to reign in radical and violent elements in its midst gives credence to the opposition,s fears of a slide into a Zimbabwe-style breakdown in the rule of law and rise in political intolerance. SWAPO officials do not try to correct some of the SWAPO Youth League's (SPYL) more outrageous public statements. Some described the SPYL as "an empty drum" that listens to Nujoma and repeats what he says. In a Parliamentary meeting a SPYL member made over the top statements that embarrassed Prime Minister Angula. However, when Angula questioned the SPYL member, he replied that as a member of the "radical youth" he was entitled to speak however he chose; and Angula subsequently backed down.

The principal opposition party was the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), a coalition of several ethnically based parties, tribal chiefs, and former SWAPO members. The DTA, which governed Namibia under Pretoria's supervision for 10 years, held 21 seats in the first National Assembly. Some of the smaller parties in the National Assembly also were ethnically based. The United Democratic Front (4 seats), led by Justus Garoeb of the Damara group, was comprised of ethnically based parties and former SWAPO members allegedly tortured in SWAPO camps in Angola. The Monitor Action Group (3 seats) was a conservative party with support from the white community; it favored legislation to protect minority rights, which comprises around 50% of Namibia's population.

Political parties in Namibia have no legal requirement to disclose the sources of private domestic funding, while public funding is dictated by the number of seats a party holds in the National Assembly. Both systems heavily benefit the ruling South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), which has a massive funding advantage heading into November's national elections. Foreign funding -- of which SWAPO is widely rumored to benefit -- by law should be declared, but shortcomings in electoral legislation mean that parties are not compelled to do so.

Namibia's current campaign laws will make it difficult, if not impossible, for smaller opposition parties to take on SWAPO for the foreseeable future without some sort of change to campaign finance laws. Even with resonant campaign messages, opposition parties will find it difficult to campaign in a country as geographically vast as Namibia without campaign resources. As long as it remains in power, SWAPO's use of holding companies will generate significant revenues that, even without public funding, will dwarf the rest of the opposition combined.

The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) may be new to Namibian politics, but its players are not. Led by former SWAPO stalwarts and well-known personalities elected at the party's December 5 congress, the RDP seems poised to give the Southwest Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) some competition. The RDP was unlikely to garner the financial resources it needs to match SWAPO's war chest, and the majority of Namibians, particularly those outside urban centers, still felt strong loyalty to their liberation party, SWAPO. Nevertheless, the RDP seemed to have made in-roads in attracting new members, particularly the youth.

The ruling SWAPO party retained control of the Tobias Hainyeko Constituency seat with an overwhelming victory. The 31 October 2008 by-election became necessary when SWAPO expelled the previous Tobias Hainyeko Councilor, Erasmus Hendjala, from the party. Hendjala promptly joined the recently formed Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) party. The run-up to the election was marred by SWAPO supporters intimidating opposition party supporters and blocking opposition rallies, as well as allegations of undue SWAPO influence over the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN).

Five political parties, including the ruling SWAPO party, the RDP, the National Unity Democratic Organization (NUDO) party, the Republican Party (RP), and the All Peoples Party (APP) registered candidates for the by-election for the Tobias Hainyeko constituency seat of the Khomas regional government. Tobias Hainyeko comprises several informal settlements on the outskirts of Windhoek. It is regarded as the biggest electoral constituency in the country, with an estimated 60,000 residents and 24,855 registered voters. All five political parties were able to mount some level of campaign activities, but several RDP activities were disrupted by SWAPO party supporters and activists.

RDP, NUDO and the RP on 28 October 2008 decided to withdraw from the election, three days before the vote. The three opposition parties cited intimidation against their supporters by ruling party supporters, and a flawed electoral process as the reasons for their decision. The three boycotting parties claimed that the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) had provided insufficient time (just 5 days) for constituents to register for the by-election. They also alleged that the ECN had not provided adequate time and information prior to the registration period to inform voters about the registration process. Furthermore, the parties charged that the dissemination of registration announcements only in English and Oshiwambo disenfranchised many voters who do not speak either language. SWAPO's support is strongest amongst Oshiwambo speakers.

2009 National Assembly 
Election Results 
Party    Votes     Percent 
SWAPO    602,580    75.3% 
RDP       90,556    11.3% 
DTA       25,393     3.1% 
NUDO      24,422     3.0% 
UDF       19,489     2.4% 
APP       10,795     1.4% 
RP         6,541     0.8% 
COD        5,375     0.7% 
SWANU      4,989     0.6% 
MAG        4,718     0.6% 
DPN        1,942     0.2% 
NDMC       1,770     0.2% 
NDP        1,187     0.2% 
CP           810     0.1% 
Total    800,567 
Namibia held its fourth National Assembly and Presidential elections on 27 and 28 November 2009. Fourteen political parties are contesting 72 National Assembly seats, and a record 12 candidates will contest the presidency. The ruling South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) party is widely expected to retain its parliamentary majority, albeit with a somewhat reduced margin, while the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) was expected to emerge as the new "official" (leading) opposition party.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) issued its final results for the November 27-28 2009 Presidential and National Assembly (parliamentary) elections late on 04 December 2009.

Despite its strong showing, due to the formula that dictates how seats in the National Assembly are allocated, SWAPO will actually have one less seat (54 instead of 55) in the parliament. Nevertheless, it will retain its two-thirds majority. The RDP and APP will enter Parliament for the first time with eight and one seats respectively. The COD lost four of its five seats (only retaining one seat). The United Democratic Front (UDF) and Namibian Unity Democratic Organization (NUDO) had three seats in the National Assembly, but both lost a seat and would be down to two members of parliament each come March 2010.

The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), the dominant opposition party at Namibia's independence, which had four seats in the current National Assembly, continued its decline and will lose half of its representation in the next National Assembly. The Monitor Action Group (MAG) which had one seat in the National Assembly, was absent from the next parliament. The South West Africa National Union (SWANU) party, one of Namibia's oldest political parties, picked up a seat although it only registered 0.45 percent of the vote.

SWAPO performed well across the country. SWAPO beat all the other parties in every region and won 50 percent or more of the vote in 10 out of the 13 regions. Only in Omaheke, Hardap, and Kunene regions did SWAPO not win an absolute majority. In those regions, NUDO and UDF - parties that have historically seen regional but not national support - performed well as expected. SWAPO polled 90 percent or better in Oshikoto, Oshana , Ohangwena and Omusati regions. In Omusati, SWAPO garnered 97.3 percent of the vote. RDP was not able to make significant in-roads into these four regions which is the heartland of the Owambo, Namibia's largest ethnic group. The Owambo people are considered SWAPO's strongest base of support. Hidipo Hamutenya, RDP's candidate for President, previously a senior SWAPO official, is himself Owambo (Ovakwanyama clan, the same as President Pohamba), so RDP supporters had hoped their party would do well in "Owamboland."

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