While the party struggles with how to ‘discipline’ the independent candidate, Itula remains an anomaly and a spanner in the works. There is much to ask about someone claiming to be independent and yet, is a card-carrying member of the ruling party. As a SWAPO member, he carries all the ruling party’s baggage, negative and positive. And yet, he runs for president as an independent. We view Itula as a contradiction.
Geingob co-opted Jerry Ekandjo thinking that placating the head of the snake, i.e., the defeated 2017 Team SWAPO, would be the end of the story. That was a miscalculation.
When Ekandjo bailed-out and accepted his monthly Parliamentary paycheck, it did not silence the internal opposition that he initially led. Itula emerged from Ekandjo’s ignoble self-silencing. The erstwhile dentist rose from dissension that still exists within the SWAPO Party.
Anyone who thinks Itula is simply one determined individual standing up all alone against Geingob is naïve. He most certainly would not be standing in the firing line, damaging his professional opportunities for the rest of his life, on his own momentum. He is an independent candidate, not an individual candidate. Leading a split party (no matter how small the split) and not embracing and managing that reality, has weakened Geingob.
Anyone seeing the healthy crowds attending the Itula rallies cannot deny that there is popular support for what the independent candidate represents. We believe that a significant number of attendees at all political rallies are not registered to vote or will not vote on the day. Nevertheless, the public show of support is not specifically for Itula as a person, but for a different viewpoint within the SWAPO Party. With this development in public view in an election year, Geingob is weakened.
Itula undermines the processes of the party. The internal party election exercises were expensively and painstakingly undertaken and then, trashed. There were votes, congresses, local nominations, and delegations assembled from across all regions and party wings. After all that, one candidate was supposed to emerge; but it hasn’t completely worked. Itula exists. “One centre of power” was the anthem at an earlier party congress – now, it rings hollow. Geingob is weakened by this.
The SWAPO disciplinary committee timidly says that Itula has “excommunicated himself from the party” by running for president. Well, not really. The party rules that would have specifically and directly prevented what Itula is doing, were not considered at the last congress. Postponing the vote on this topic was short-sighted by party leaders and set the stage for Itula.
And then there is Katjanaa Kaurivi, the Otjombinde constituency councillor. He is a SWAPO member who ran for election and won his seat in 2015 as an ‘independent.’ Not a peep about excommunication was uttered then. Outrage about that now, when the precedent was already set and tacitly approved earlier, are weak.
Itula will not come close to defeating Geingob at the polls. He is not a strong candidate. But, that is not his point. SWAPO Secretary General Sophia Shaningwa needlessly lowered herself to publicly threaten to “deal with” Itula as she has “all the money”. She represents Geingob. Her sophomoric finger-pointing spat with Itula at the ECN meeting reinforces our point: Geingob is weakened.
We look at the flippant comments of Justice Minister Sacky Shanghala as he blithely downplayed a bad contract he wrote as Attorney General (then) on behalf of his client, the Republic of Namibia. It is on this basis that the NTB sent N$23 million in state funds to the KORA criminal, Ernest Adjovi.
He now says that the N$23 million is gone - "Write it off as a loss.” The Namibian people feel betrayed by a string of such multi-million dollar losses of state funds. The Justice Minister's statements represent Geingob. His comments make candidate Geingob look disconnected from the people.
Over the years there have been political flashes in the pan who have competed loudly with SWAPO for a slice of power. We recall the Kauras, Ulengas and Hamutenyas and others who represented legitimate underdog parties in a bid to challenge the SWAPO supermajority in Parliament. They failed. The parties they led are now spent forces. Those parties were weak when they contended for political power. However, the SWAPO leaders they opposed were strong. Now that has switched.
Geingob is the weakest SWAPO candidate to face re-election. A rising number of people are saying they want to vote for SWAPO, but they don’t want to vote for Geingob. That was not the case with Founding President Sam Nujoma and Former President Hifikepunye Pohamba at the polls. The current president has lost the wide-ranging constituency he built when he won with an 87 percent landslide majority. His 2014 lustre is long gone. Geingob has been weakened.
The longer-term impact of an independent presidential candidate could bear fruit in next year’s local elections. Even though SWAPO will likely adjust its rules regarding members running as independent candidates, this may be challenged, given that the precedent is already set.
SWAPO members from opposing internal factions could emerge in local elections. In small constituencies where the opposition parties have a significant voting base, this could split the vote. This would make way for alternative parties to capture local seats. Councils, where SWAPO had a majority, could seat several independent candidates. They will have more say in local activities. The threat of “recall” notices emanating from Windhoek will become less relevant.
Panduleni Itula is a symbol, more than a strong political candidate. Since the ruling party will still perform well at the polls, his dramatic presence in an election year, backlights existing weaknesses in Geingob. We will wait to see how that will be addressed going forward.