The ruling party did not perform at last week’s polls as it may have expected. Swapo did not ‘lose’. It still maintains a simple majority, though ground was lost. There is no need for panic within the party faithful. The short-sighted comments by party spokesperson Hilma Nicanor that accuses ‘outside’ forces of trying to unseat the ruling party are not in line with the dignity of the mighty Swapo Party. There is a time to fight hard for the hearts and minds of the people and there is a time to accept reality and strategize accordingly based on the outcomes. This is the time for the latter.
Swapo has led this country out of the grip of apartheid terrorism and white supremacy and into independence. Nation-building has taken place and been successful on many levels. The last several years has seen many unfortunate changes that have challenged the ruling party. This has cost the party pockets of support.
The drought, decline of the Rand, shifts in international commodity prices, a bloated civil service wage bill, a plethora of SME Bank and Fishrot style corruption cases costing the nation billions, economic recession, increased unemployment, a perception of ageing/out of touch leaders, and COVID-19 have changed Namibians. Economic performance and service delivery (consistently, not just before elections) wins or loses votes. Swapo has lost votes.
The national election last year was a cold slap in the face for the ruling party. Now, in the regional and local elections, the loss of many areas previously controlled by Swapo including control of the Windhoek City Council (a major set back indeed), is telling. The public is shaking Swapo by the shoulders saying, “pay attention! Change or die.”
Nicanor must choose her comments very carefully. There are no outside forces working against Swapo; Swapo has worked against Swapo on several levels. Let party leaders disavow the comments by Nicanor and embrace reality over sour grapes. Swapo must never appear out of touch like other leaders around the world who lost legal and transparent elections and yet cannot come to terms with the truth.
Let Swapo celebrate the areas where they held on to power. It should use those areas as a springboard back into the hearts of constituencies that have been lost. It is all about PERFORMANCE. It is not just Fishrot or joblessness or poverty on their own that have cost votes and support for the ruling party. It is a perfect storm of events including the pandemic response effects on the economy that has signalled Swapo’s setbacks. The situation is made worse due to the lack of a tangible PLAN that shows the nation the way out of trouble and into better times.
Instead of battling the confirmed results of the local and regional elections, analyze them in terms of what expectations were not met. Assemble teams that live in those local areas to talk to the people. Why did they change their votes?
Getting ahead of this situation is the key to recapturing the public support needed to govern effectively. And yes, Swapo can do this. All is not lost for the ruling party, not by a long shot.
But questions remain. Is there the political will to tamp down pridefulness and myopic nostalgia that has turned the more energetic and informed voters off? Can the ruling party start training-up tomorrow’s leaders mentored by the outgoing old guard? The needs of the youthful majority of Namibian voters are not the same as what was expected by those at independence 30 years ago. Can Swapo reshape itself to address this reality?
People are looking for leadership in tough times. They are nervous about their jobs. They are worried about their children’s academic prospects. They are uncertain about rising prices, pandemic restrictions, and entire industries in full collapse. They are looking for the ruling party’s 2021 plan with a budget and timeline (not speeches) to make things better. It is that simple.
Wasting time on statements like those made by Nicanor must not be the way forward for the party that liberated this country. Casting aspersions on Namibia’s ability to hold free and fair elections is an insult to our democracy. It is a slap in the face of the hard work of those at the ECN and hundreds of thousands of citizens who cast their votes in good faith.
The ticket to addressing the concerns of the people who ran away from Swapo in this election is first to accept reality. Then, those in power must strategize for a better tomorrow. They must show the path to significant change and the people will run back home to the party they have known over all these years.