Open up the elections

26 May 2017
The determined push by the SWAPO Party Acting President and Secretary General for Geingob to be the sole candidate for party presidency at the upcoming elective Congress is undemocratic.  It could even be construed as evidence that the acting party president is uncertain of winning support from the majority of his own constituency. 
An open election allowing all who wish to contest to declare their intent, will bring new ideas from the shadows and into the light of debate within the party structures. 
The party’s youth wing, in an inquorate, legally contested meeting recently resolved that Geingob should run unopposed for the presidency of the party.  Aside from the unclear relevance of that meeting’s resolution and Geingob’s immediate phone calls of support to those few who attended, we are compelled to ask, “Why should sole candidacy be such a determined goal?” 
Where is the victory in winning a one-man race, where no one else has been permitted to openly run? 
With all the posturing and smiling the president does on overseas visits, the Geingob image of the new African statesman that is tolerant of modern ideas, democracy, capitalism and openness cannot be reconciled with that same person begrudging competition for the leadership of his own political party. 
We are reminded of an interview in 2012 with President Pohamba where he stated his support for Geingob’s bid to be the vice president of the party, but he also said he would accept and work with any other person who might win the election.  This is the voice of reason and openness and it should be heeded.
If there is a sole candidate for the presidency of SWAPO, then there should be sole candidacies for every other post.  Why be halfway hypocritical?
Those wishing to contest should be able to openly step onto the platform, declare their programmes, seek support, answer questions from the constituents, stimulate healthy debate and compare their ideas with those of other candidates.  This is particularly necessary when the post being contested is vacant.
President Geingob won the national election with 87 percent of the vote while running against other candidates, so why is there resistance to throw open the candidacy within the ruling party?  What is there to fear?
Those who use the time-worn excuse that an uncontested candidacy is a statement of unity, are in denial about the reality of what is going on at the grassroots level within the party.  They equate party loyalty with loyalty to an individual. They also believe that having only one choice at the party ballot box means that the majority is unified behind that one person.  These are fallacies.
It is also a fallacy to claim that two different centres of power (ie.., a different SWAPO President than the State President) would dilute authority.  There were overlaps of two different people in these posts at previous times with no dent in the running of the nation or the strength of the party.  It is all about collective leadership; the spread of power means more efficiency, scope and reach.
We feel this push for sole candidacy poisons the atmosphere within the party; it is toxic and divisive.  Political demonisation of those wishing to run for the position of president of the party is polarising, not unifying. 
People wishing to lead their party are being labelled as rebels or villains just for wanting to present themselves to the constituency for consideration.
It speaks to the atmosphere of fear when even cabinet members have to use burner phones to make calls in order to speak freely on this topic.  A long list of dictators like Amin or Saddam demanded to be the sole candidate for their party’s leadership.  Surely we cannot follow those examples.
We challenge those who point to the unopposed post-independence party president candidacies of Nujoma and Pohamba as justification for Geingob’s demand to run unopposed now.  While we admit that the constituency dynamics and circumstances of the past are dramatically different to those that exist now, we do not recall any active candidates seeking to emerge as contestants for the post of president of the SWAPO Party being silenced. 
In fact, in 2004, President Nujoma insisted on opening the floor for nominations for the post which saw Pohamba, Hamutenya and Angula emerging as the choices for the SWAPO candidate to run for the presidency of the country.  There is a precedent set for nominations of a slate of candidates to run for high office in the party.  That spirit should be revived.
There are calls from various sections of the party for discussion of the president’s track record of achievements, particularly in terms of addressing the policy priorities of various minority ethnic groups in Namibia.  There was much talk at the dawn of the Geingob presidency that he would be more open to inculcating minority ethnic group concerns into national decisions.  And yet, arguably, he has done worse for minorities than any other president as evidenced by the firing of Bernadus Swartbooi and branding him as a rebel, the formulation of a national position on the genocide issue without full consultation with those affected, and the snubbing of traditional Damara leaders by not attending cultural events.  Those putting forth a justification of a sole candidacy based on the president’s minority ethnic group background are disingenuous. 
If the race for the presidency of the party is open and freely joined by any willing candidate, the current underground manoeuvring and positioning will surface.  Innovative ideas from opposing candidates will be mooted and discussions about the future of the party will be openly enriched.  There is no greater way for elected officials to hear from their constituency, than the ballot box.
Open it up. 

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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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