Namibia Regional and Local Elections 2020 – The Decline of the Former Liberation Movements
Namibia held its regional council and local authority elections on 25 November, 2020. An overview of the results shows a significant decline in electoral performance for the ruling SWAPO. Several new political parties, including the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC), Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) and Landless People’s Movement (LPM) appear to have chipped away at SWAPO’s support.
Regional council elections
With regard to regional council elections, SWAPO emerged as the winner nationally with 56.77%, a steep decline from the 83% it won in the 2015 elections. IPC came second with 17.53%, which is impressive for a party contesting for the first time. LPM won 6.66% while the National Unity Democratic Organisation of Namibia (NUDO) garnered 2.35%, a marginal improvement from the 2.19% it won in 2015 (1). Other parties won 9.77% collectively.
In the 2015 elections, SWAPO’s dominance was such that it won 13 of the 14 regions outright, with Kunene the only region where it won less than 50% (46%). In 2020 however, the situation became more complicated, and it won 10 out of the 14 regions. However, it won less than 50% of the vote in Zambezi, Otjozondjupa, Omaheke and Khomas.
SWAPO lost in Kunene, Erongo, Hardap and Kharas. PDM won 35.12% in Kunene against SWAPO’s 33.64%. In Erongo, IPC obtained 36.76% against SWAPO’s 30.44%, a decline from the 65% it won in 2015.
In Hardap, LPM won 45.39% followed by SWAPO’s 33.27%, down from 64% in 2015. LPM also won in Kharas with 38.67%, followed by SWAPO, which declined significantly from 83% in 2015 to 36.26% in 2020.
Turnout in the regional council elections was just 38.22%.
Local authority elections (only 89% of results had been declared at the time of writing)
SWAPO also registered steep declines in local authority elections despite winning the highest percentage of votes nationally at 39.93%, down from 73.44% in 2015. IPC was second with 21.73%, LPM third with 13.68%, PDM third with 7.63% and Affirmative Repositioning (AR) fourth with 4.57%. Other parties won 12.47% collectively.
SWAPO failed to retain outright control of at least 30 local councils countrywide, including in key economic areas such as Windhoek, Oranjemund, Lüderitz, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. It now holds a majority in just 20 local authorities. After the 2015 elections, it had control of 52 of the 57 local authorities in Namibia (2).
IPC won seats in 34 local authorities while LPM won seats in 26. Voter turnout was 42.92 percent.
2020 local authority elections saw SWAPO’s heaviest decline since Namibia’s independence. Analysts have attributed this to the purging of SWAPO leaders perceived to be critical of Hage Geingob. Many of these leaders formed new parties that have chipped away at SWAPO’s dominance, including the IPC.
Breakaway political parties from SWAPO in the recent years
Landless People’s Movement was registered in 2018 by former SWAPO members. Its leader is Bernadus Swartbooi, the former deputy minister of lands and resettlement under President Hage Geingob. In 2019, Dr Panduleni Itula, who was a member of SWAPO at the time, contested the presidential election as an independent candidate and won 29.4% of the vote (242,657 votes). In 2020, he officially launched the Independent Patriots for Change. Bernadus Swartbooi, won 2.7% (22,542 votes). This shows that SWAPO is losing votes, as its formers members are now leading opposition parties in the most recent years, where this exodus can be seen as a response to the corruption within SWAPO.
Former Liberation Movements in SADC Region
SWAPO was formed in 1960 and it is among other liberation movements in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region which grew into established political parties, where all such “liberator parties” have experienced a decline in electoral support since entering government. Reasons for this include corruption and poor service delivery in their respective countries.
The Decline of the Former Liberation Movements
Factionalism plays a big factor within the former liberation movements in the SADC region, where this is more about power struggles within the parties. Some are fighting for state resources and want to retain power at all cost within the party to ensure continued access to state resources, which has been seen to lead to looting in the state. In Zimbabwe, we saw the formation of the G40 within ZANU-PF of which most the leaders are now in exile, some of them being based in South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique (3). The G40 members within ZANU-PF were expelled by the party.
In Namibia the IPC and LPM have played a huge role in the SWAPO support base declining in a short period of time. The power struggle and factionalism within the party has led to two groups leaving SWAPO and forming new political parties in Namibia. The ANC also over the years have faced the same challenge of its members leaving to form new political parties.
In 2007 the ANC went to its national conference that led to the ANC having a second breakaway party subsequent to 1994. Congress of the People (COPE) was formed by those who lost at the conference, as they were supporting former President Thabo Mbeki. After Thabo Mbeki was recalled as South African President in 2008, several ministers in his cabinet resigned, including the current UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (4). COPE contested the 2009 elections as a breakaway party from the ANC and it won 1,311,027 votes, which translated to 7.42% of the vote. However, its electoral support has declined in the most recent years, internal struggles being one cause of its decline (5).
In 2012, Julius Malema, who was the ANCYL President at the time, was expelled by the ANC. Floyd Shivambu, who was the ANCYL spokesperson, was also expelled (6). In 2014 they decided to form a new party called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which is now the second biggest opposition party in South Africa. The EFF won 1,169,259 votes, or 6.35% in the 2014 elections (7). The party won 1,882,480 in 2019, or 10.80% of the vote, showing growth in support for EFF.
Both these splits have claimed votes from the ANC, which has seen a decline in support in national elections since 2004. The ANC has become divided in two factions since its national conference in 2017. One faction calls itself the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) Forces and it is linked to former President Jacob Zuma and ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule – who is currently out on bail (8). The other faction is linked to President Cyril Ramaphosa and is known as the CR17 faction. Should there be another breakaway party going to the 2021 local elections or 2024 national elections, it would impact the ANC’s support significantly.