Ondangwa protest vote weighs heavy

21 June 2019
Author  

With all due respect to the talent and good character of Angelina Immanuel, we see the more than 1,400 votes garnered in her name in the June 15th Ondangwa Urban Constituency by elections as a protest vote representative of a SWAPO vs SWAPO outcry that demonstrates continued discontent within the party.  We believe her participation in the election is a watershed event and she is to be congratulated for her efforts.  However, the votes won under her name were likely not due specifically to her leadership or personal support base. 

The echoes of the 2017 SWAPO Congress where different camps vied for slates of candidates reverberate in every Immanuel vote cast, as the entire ‘independent candidacy’ issue demonstrates.  
SWAPO should acknowledge the continued cracks in their ruling party armour and work more assiduously towards binding wounds lest the fissures become large enough to threaten the percentage of victory expected in November 2019.
We believe the president of the SWAPO party has not done enough to embrace those who ‘lost’ at the 2017 Congress.  We believe such an inclusive outreach to those contending would have strengthened and unified the party in the longer run.  The votes cast for Immanuel in Ondangwa are indicative of this inner party division.  
We are compelled to look back at the actions of former President Pohamba in 2004, after the Extraordinary Congress where he was elected the SWAPO candidate for the presidency.  After a fierce battle, he held the hand of comradeship out to those who supported the candidates who ran against him.  
The insightful Pohamba did not sideline people who took other positions.  Many who supported him from the beginning, bristled at his open arms actions and there was negative blowback; they clamoured for a ‘winner take all’ point of view rather than a ‘SWAPO unity’ mantra.  Pohamba instinctively knew that a political scorched earth policy against those who ran against him or supported another candidate was not the bricks and mortar of a solid SWAPO ruling party going forward.
Amidst insults and disrespect that characterized the election where Geingob secured the SWAPO presidency, tensions built up to the point that Geingob, fired or marginalized his opponents, using fear of retribution to silence all who did not back his ‘slate.’  This was considered by some to be heavy-handed as Geingob appeared to place his stamp on all things SWAPO when it was expected that the party leader would rise above the negative comments and criticism and overcome pressure from his own support base and be a unifying force for those both for and against his candidacy.   Some feel that loyalty to Geingob has begun to trump loyalty to the party and that this is not inclusive, democratic or tolerant.  The strength of the party, at the end of the day does not rest with a ‘slate’, but in the commitment and dedication of its members.  Failure to move with a more comprehensive, party-binding posture after the 2017 Congress, planted the seed of independent candidacies.  That seed has taken firm root.
The independent candidate concept emerged and gained support from those within the party who may feel loyal to what SWAPO stands for, but disaffected by those in power positions who reject their ideas, inputs, and voices.  
With more than 3,700 votes cast in that entire by-election, nearly 40 percent went to a non-SWAPO candidate.  That is significant and is loaded with meaning; it cannot be brushed aside.  Why this occurred must be on the agenda of high level SWAPO meetings if they want not only to continue to win the large electoral majorities they have become used to, but to secure SWAPO’s position in future elections on every level.
The power of regional and local elections is significant and cannot be brushed aside.  Those people living in communities voting in elections have a significant mandate to offer.  At congress, small numbers of delegates convene and vote for party leaders.  These few delegates are largely hand-picked and usually acquiesce to the will of the leadership.  The election therefore, of party leadership is not a broad based mandate from the wider party membership, only a narrow nod from party leaders.  
However, in open elections by the public, particularly in the regions, the people actually speak and those more diverse voices ought not to be ignored.   Voters not only from the party, but eligible voters non-affiliated, members of other parties and indeed stalwart party members can speak their minds in the voting booths.  That is democracy in action.  This is part of the message that was well sent by those with concerns about SWAPO in Ondangwa.
One cannot avoid noting that this independent candidacy emerged in the bread basket of the SWAPO stronghold in the North.  If a protest vote is present in such a normal SWAPO-led area, what else is quietly awakened and lying under the surface of other party stronghold areas and in the few areas where SWAPO has a marginal hold on a slight majority?
The Ondangwa by-election results weigh heavy.  The Immanuel voters have sent a message from the rank and file of the SWAPO party to the victorious ‘slate’ that is running the party.  Will that message be heard?

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