Swapo’s candidate, the charismatic 73-year-old Hage Geingob, won last Friday’s presidential election in Namibia by a landslide. But his victory could be short-lived if he fails to deliver.
Geingob garnered over 80% of the vote, higher than the figure ever achieved by the current president Hifikepunye Pohamba, and the nation’s founding father, Sam Nujoma.
According to the Electoral Commission of Namibia, Geingob won 87% of the total vote. By comparison, McHenry Venaani of DTA of Namibia received just 5% and Hidipo Hamutenya of Rally for Democracy and Progress 3%.
Geingob’s popularity is also seen to have spilled over into the National Assembly poll, where Swapo garnered 80% of the vote, with the DTA receiving 4.1% and the RDP 3.51%.
This means that Swapo will take 77 of the seats in the 96-seat lower house – a massive 23-seat increase.
Geingob’s popularity can be attributed to the fact he is the country’s first prime minister and has served in the role for 12 years. He also played a major role in Namibia’s democratic transition after independence in 1990.
“Geingob was part of the team that got Swapo recognised by the United Nations. He also set up the National Land Reform conference after independence,” said Phanuel Kaapama, the head of the politics department at the University of Namibia.
Geingob served as minister of trade and industry in 2008, becoming prime minister in 2012.
As a member of the minority Damara/Nama ethnic group, he was able to cash in the support of Namibia’s many ethnic minorities. However, his long service to Swapo has also made him popular among the majority Aawambo.
Geingob is also well supported in urban areas and in the business community, having gained the reputation of being an able technocrat and businessman.
These are skills that will be tested over the issue of land, which sparked a rebellion within the Swapo youth league before the elections.
A faction of the league, led by the charismatic Job Amupanda, has given Windhoek city council until July next year to respond to 14 000 applications for plots in the city.
Kaapama said that how Geingob handles this issue next year will be of paramount importance to local people, many of whom voted in the hope of land.
The ruling party has suffered from internal divisions since its 2007 congress, at which Geingob was chosen as Swapo vice-president, making him eligible for the presidency.
The move was not well received with some members, who supported the minister of immigration, Ivula Ithana, and others.
The Namibian newspaper quoted Geingob earlier this year as complaining that he did not enjoy sufficient support in Swapo and that he had been harassed by party members who were plotting to prevent him from becoming party’s vice-president.
It reported that the police were investigating a case of harassment involving Swapo members.
Defusing the hostility within the party is another of the challenges Geingob must confront.
In terms of the constitution, the president can appoint eight MPs directly to Parliament. To heal the rifts in Swapo and consolidate his power base, he will have to choose his candidates carefully.
Kaapama said if he left out such key figures as former transport minister Helmut Angula, home affairs minister Ithana and youth minister Jerry Ekandjo, he could jeopardise his chances of being elected to the party’s presidency at Swapo’s 2017 congress, when Pohamba is set to retire.
“The right appointments could strengthen his power in the party and the country,” said Kaapama.
Complicating the issue will be his desire to bring more representatives of minority groups into parliament.
How he deals with Swapo’s youth wing will also shape his political future, as the party’s younger members tended to support other candidates for the vice-presidency.
The ruling party’s youthful parliamentary caucus may pose a problem for him, as these MPs will have higher expectations of his delivery performance.
“The next four years will either make or break Geingob – he will need to tread carefully,” said Kaapama. “But having had tougher assignments in the past, he should be able to handle the challenges wisely.”
Another political commentator, Hoze Riruako, said Geingob had clawed back many votes in regions that were normally opposition strongholds because of the dominance of certain ethnic minorities.
One example was the Kunene region in the north-west of Namibia, which is dominated by the Damara ethnicity and a bastion of United Democratic Front support.
Riruako, managing director of Management and Leadership Expert, pointed out that he had received over 90% of votes in the country’s O regions, Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshikoto, Swapo’s traditional stronghold in the north of the country.
“The land was the basis of our struggle and to it still is,” he said. “If is not dealt with, it could unsettle the population.”
A further challenge for Geingob was the fact that after 24 years of independence the gap between Namibia’s haves and have-nots continues to grow.
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