Namibians queue to cast their votes at a polling station near Windhoek, Namibia in the country's elections Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. Namibian President Hage Geingob's ruling party faces its biggest challenge since independence nearly three decades ago. The resource-rich southern African nation's registered 1.3 million voters are voting for president and National Assembly members. (AP Photo/Brandon van Wyk)

Namibia votes as ruling party faces unprecedented challenge

November 27, 2019 - 6:45 am

WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) — Namibia’s ruling party on Wednesday faced its biggest challenge since independence nearly three decades ago as people fed up with a weak economy went to the polls. The resource-rich southern African nation’s registered 1.3 million voters were choosing the president and National Assembly members.

The ruling SWAPO has been shaken by a new corruption scandal. Meanwhile, more than 700,000 of the country’s 2.5 million people have registered for relief during a drought that affects the region.

President Hage Geingob faces a challenger from within his own party who is running as an independent. Dr. Panduleni Itula has been appealing to youth; some 46% of them are unemployed. The election includes more than 400,000 voters born since Namibia gained its independence from South Africa.

“I am here because I want to vote for change. Change in education as some of us from poor backgrounds cannot afford to pay for (university) education,” said one first-time voter, 21-year-old Lavinia Ruben.

Itula made a last-minute legal challenge to Namibia’s use of electronic voting machines in this election but it was rejected. The country was the first in sub-Saharan Africa to use the machines.

“If I was the judge, I would have dismissed the case as well, my lawyer did not present the case well,” Itula told The Associated Press.

Geingob after voting on Wednesday called elections a contest, not a war, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

An unprecedented runoff election might be needed if no presidential candidate can get over the 50%-plus-one vote threshold.

In the last election, in 2014, SWAPO won 80% percent of the vote, its highest share ever, while Geingob won 87% of the presidential vote.

“My thought so far is that Namibia is going have a free and fair election,” said the head of the African Union observer mission, Ernest Bai Koroma. There were scattered reports of delays and troubles with voting machines.

The ruling party was shaken this month when two cabinet ministers resigned after Iceland’s biggest seafood company, Samherji, was accused of paying bribes to local politicians and officials for access to Namibia’s fishing quota, a key economic resource along with mining. The former justice minister was arrested Wednesday.

Political analysts have said they do not expect the scandal to have a big impact on the vote as many people already had made up their minds.

Other candidates include Namibia’s first female presidential candidate, Esther Muinjangue.

The official opposition Popular Democratic Movement, led by McHenry Venaani, has largely been campaigning around the issue of SWAPO’s two-thirds majority in parliament, which Venaani says has fueled impunity and graft.

Venaani on Wednesday said elections can never be free and fair with the voting machines, expressing skepticism about transparency.

The Landless People’s Movement led by Bernadus Swartbooi has focused on land expropriation in Namibia, which has one of the world’s highest inequality rates.

“I want change, someone who will get us out of this poverty we live in,” said one voter, 47-year-old Johannes Nekongo.

“I want change. We have no electricity, we live in the shacks, hoping that one day things will change,” said voter Hedwig Kanana, 45. “My vote will make a difference.”

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