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Namibia - 2009 Elections

Namibia's 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections were held on 27-28 November 2009. There were 14 registered political parties, but the spotlight focused on the showdown between SWAPO and the largely untested RDP. Formed in 2007 by prominent SWAPO insiders and led by former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hidipo Hamutenya, the RDP mounted an ambitious campaign with limited resources. The party hoped to win between 20 and 30 seats, but many pundits projected their showing is likelier to be closer to 5 to 10 seats. In any case, the RDP was expected to emerge as the new "official" (leading) opposition party.

Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) President Hidipo Hamutenya and Secretary General Jessaya Nyamu stressed that they had formed the RDP in response to SWAPO's slide toward autocracy under Founding President Sam Nujoma. Hamutenya and Nyamu described SWAPO and the Namibian government as still firmly in Nujoma's hands, with President Hifikepunye Pohamba wielding little influence. The reason Namibia has not encountered the same problems as Zimbabwe is that SWAPO was still firmly in power and does not have to behave like Mugabe to maintain control. Nonetheless, the opposition must move strongly against Zimbabwe-style developments in Namibia. Unlike previous Namibian elections, incidents of political violence marred the lead-up to the polling days. SWAPO and the DP faced off several times around the country, particularly in the northern Omusati region, where SWAPO members tried to prevent the RDP from campaigning and holding political rallies. While none of these confrontations-- mostly rock throwing, fist fights and vehicle chases -- resulted in casualties, many are troubled by the incidents and political leadership on both sides repeatedly called for tolerance.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) spent much of the campaign season in hot water. It angered opposition parties in October by awarding the tender to print the election ballots to a SWAPO-owned company. The ECN was forced to re-advertise the tender, which eventually went to a South African company, after the opposition threatened a boycott and legal action over the original decision.

The ECN also generated controversy when it released the results of its registration efforts, announcing in September that 290,000 new voters registered for this year's National Assembly and Presidential election, bringing the total electorate to 1.3 million voters. That figure aroused suspicion because in 2004, 82,000 new voters registered and 818,395 Namibians cast their vote. The electoral body has admitted the voters roll contained duplicate entries, ghost voters, and even a few Angolan citizens, but promised that adequate checks and balances and security measures would prevent ineligible voters from participating in the elections, much less voting multiple times.

SWAPO had clearly lost some of its more prominent members to the RDP, but the other opposition parties have struggled to raise adequate funds and organize campaign efforts. Moreover, three of the larger opposition parties, the Congress of Democrats (COD), the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), and the Republican Party (RP), have suffered from well-publicized internal squabbles that have weakened them and resulted in a departure of some of their members.

Namibia's President is directly elected. A record 12 candidates, including President Pohamba, entered the race. Pohamba, who in 2004 defeated six other candidates by receiving 76 percent of the vote, was expected to win re-election handily. His most serious competition comes from Hamutenya, who lost to Pohamba in 2004, when the two vied to lead SWAPO at the party's controversial congress.

Many observers note that Pohamba benefited from his incumbent's status. He has been able to legally access state resources, such as transport and staff support, during the campaign. He enjoyed widespread press coverage, while the opposition candidates have complained of little access to air time on state-owned media outlets. Pohamba remained popular throughout the country, particularly in populous northern regions of Namibia.

Pohamba won a second term with 75% of the vote for his second and final term in office. The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) released the official results on December 4. The ruling SWAPO party and incumbent President Pohamba won with 75% and 76% respectively. His closest rival was the RDPs Hidipo Hamutenya who won 11% of the vote. In the parliamentary elections, SWAPO took 54 seats. The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) (taking over from CoD - the Congress of Democrats - as the official opposition) won 11 % of the vote and took 8 seats, the most by a single opposition party. The Congress of Democrats (CoD), the United Democratic Front (UDF), Namibian Unity Democratic Organization (NUDO), All Peoples Party (APP), and South West Africa National Union (SWANU) were represented in the National Assembly. DTA and Nudo came joint third with 2 seats each, while APP, CoD, MAG, RP, SWANU and UDF had 1 seat apiece.

While some procedural irregularities were observed, international and domestic observers pronounced the elections to be generally free and fair. The RDP, along with eight other opposition parties, however, claimed that ECN manipulated the election results and challenged the results in the High Court.

On March 4, 2010, the High Court dismissed the petition on a technicality, but the opposition parties appealed to the Supreme Court. On September 6, 2010, the Supreme Court unanimously decided to return the case to the High Court, where its merits were heard. On February 14, 2011, the High Court ruled that the opposition did not show enough evidence that the elections had been fraudulent. However, the court criticized the Electoral Commission of Namibia for conducting elections in a manner that could arouse suspicion. The opposition parties appealed the High Courts ruling to the Supreme Court, which was still considering the case at the end of 2011.

With 54 seats, SWAPO retained its two-thirds majority in the new Parliament, which was sworn in March 21, 2010. The RDP, which won eight seats; the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), which won two seats; and the Republican Party, which won one seat, boycotted the swearing-in ceremony and remain outside Parliament while the appeal was unresolved.

The opposition was crippled by ethnic rivalries. Part of SWAPO's success can be ascribed to its Ovambo support base (the Ovambo represent a fraction over half of the Namibian population). But notwithstanding former President Nujomas increasing tendency to stray from the party line when speaking out on various subjects (including sexual orientation and colonialism), Pohambas record indicated SWAPO continued along a pragmatic policy course.

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