Mike Kavekotora, the President of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), is determined to grow the party, despite the many challenges it faces, such as leadership infighting and poor performance at recent polls.
“Through the hard work of our regional coordinators, the party continues to make steps in numerous regions such as Kavango and Ohangwena, and I am optimistic about the party’s progress thus far,” the lone party voice in the National Assembly said.
Support for the RDP has plummeted to the ground and it has been struggling to return to its former glory days when it was official opposition after the 2009 election. The party is facing an uphill battle in its quest to become a political force to be reckoned with again.
The party performed exceptionally well in the first general election in 2009 in which it participated following its formation in 2007, where it managed to secure eight seats in the National Assembly compared to one that it now occupies after the 2019 election.
But, to Kavekotora, the one seat obtained does not show a true reflection of the results. “This was a huge blow to many who thought it will be a smooth ride into politics,’’ a disappointed RDP leader said.
Kavekotora lamented that leadership squabbles over the presidency and the secretary general position that have been in the court put a serious dent in party support and diminished people’s appetite in the party. However, he has seen commitment from all their support base in the regions giving him hope that the party’s fortunes can turn for the better.
In the 2019 party convention Kavekotora ran for the presidency against party stalwart, Kandy Nehova and Meriam Hamutenya. Nehova garnered 130 votes against Kavekotora’s 240.
Nehova contested the outcome of the elections, claiming that the convention was not properly constituted and challenged it in court, whose hearing is set for next month.
Nehova is now suspected of conspiring and negatively influencing people in the Ohangwena Region not to support Kavekotora’s presidency.
However, the president is adamant that he is a leader of all regions and will continue to strive for unity, peace and democracy in the party. “The tribal card Nehova is pulling on me will not work,” he sounded.
But, if the significant drop in support for the RDP is anything to go by, what should new parties, particularly those who broke away from Swapo, do to sustain their support and grow bigger.
RDP (2009) and the Congress of Democrats (1999) during their first run in the general election did exceptionally well and came in second after Swapo. The parties participated in their first elections 10 years apart from each other. In 1999, CoD secured 7 seats to its current one and in 2009 RDP obtained eight seats as opposed to one in the 2019 polls.
The good performance of the new parties and their subsequent nosedive can be ascribed to initial euphoria followed by party leadership fights.
Both CoD and RDP were breakaway parties from Swapo and their history tells a trend of decline after initial euphoria. To consolidate and sustain the party support require a political agenda beyond the dissent with the dominant party faction.
Henning Melber, a political analyst, when asked about the decline of RDP told the Windhoek Observer that the party had been bogged down in inner-party rivalries and fights for positions instead of spending energy on political visions and programs and as a result, they became irrelevant.
It remains to be seen what the fate of a party like the Independent Patriots for Change will be after the performance of its founder, who came in second with 30 percent of the vote after the Swapo candidate, President Hage Geingob whose votes dropped from over 80 percent in 2014 to under 60 percent in the 2019 elections. Dr Panduleni Itula, was also a Swapo member and ran as an Independent candidate in the elections before he formed IPC. He was fired from Swapo.
Melber said Itula did not do too well in the North as expected, and still has a long way to go to the 2024 elections.
The Landless People’s Movement, also a party formed by disgruntled Swapo members, in contrast seems to have established a reliable regional-ethnic base in the southern regions and also some support in urban centers. This might help the party to maintain a certain degree of political influence.
However, LPM also has been rocked by infighting lately and saw the recall of several municipality councilors for alleged ill-discipline and resignations by some of its councilors. These infights, political analysts say, are always leading to the decline in the support base of political parties.
Melber also pointed out that the PDM managed to reinvent itself and to some extent shook off the Apartheid associated DTA image behind, as their recovery testifies. It will remain a political force in the country based on its regional-ethnic identity and support.
The regional support base is a significant factor in the case of a number of other parties, which manage to garner sufficient local support base on ethnic affinities to make it to the National Assembly with anything between one and three seats, thanks to the strictly proportional election system.
“I doubt that the RDP is able to achieve such a comeback”, Melber opined.
‘’Like the CoD, they have been political mayflies,’’ whose existence is short lived, Melber argued, when asked if RDP will resurrect itself without a regional support base, such as the LPM and PDM that have cemented their political foundations.
The party at its establishment was led by late Hidipo Hamutenya and Jesaya Nyamu, and was considered to represent a strong challenge to Swapo’s political dominance since Namibia’s independence in 1990.
“According to Hamutenya, speaking at the RDP’s launch in 2007, he stated that the party was born in response to the people’s deep longing for a vision, political direction and the rekindling of their hopes and aspirations for a better and prosperous future,” Melber reminded.
Hamutenya was officially selected as leader during the RDP conference in 2008 in December. Other senior members of the party included Steve Bezuidenhoudt, Jesaya Nyamu and Agnes Limbo.
During the 2009 National and Presidential elections, Hamutenya won 88 640 votes translating into ten comma-ninety-one percent of the vote, but despite losing, RDP obtained eight seats in the National Assembly.
After the 2009 election, RDP and eight other opposition parties, disputed the results and filed a case in the court to have the results set aside but they lost the case.
The eight RDP MPs to the NA were Hidipo Hamutenya, Steve Bezuidenhoudt, Jesaya Nyamu, Agnes Limbo, Anton Von Wietersheim, Kandy Nehova, Peter Naholo and Heiko Lucks.
In 2015 Jeremia Nambinga was voted in as RDP president, but later was voted out, due to a no confidence vote. He challenged the move in 2017 in the court and won.
This came after Hamutenya was forced to step down on the 28th of February 2015, were he later rejoined SWAPO in the same year on the 28th of August. He died in 2016.
Nambinga resigned in 2018 from the party presidency, a move which saw Mike Kavekotora, resigning his Secretary General positon on the 13th August 2018 to lead the party, as the Presidential candidate in the 2019 elections.
Kavekotora came 9th among from a large field of opposition party candidates and RDP only manage to obtain one seat in the National Assembly. In the 2009 and 2014 elections, under the Hamutenya leadership the party came second and third respectively.
Ndumba Kamwenyah, another political analyst, opined that infights in a party are not good, especially in upcoming or new established parties like IPC and LPM, pointing out that this should be avoided.
“A strong foundation is important for moral and reputation in the public perceptions,” he said when asked whether persistent infights are a danger to a party’s growth?
Kamwenyah emphasized that every new political party, attracts people from all walks of life – those with good motives and own agendas at its formation.
He advised that conflict resolution mechanism structures be put in place to address grievances quietly without them escalating into the public arena.
This, he said, will ensure that the image of the party is protected. ‘’Conflicts are expected to happen within parties, as people come from different backgrounds, conflict are inevitable but at times, it is good to have conflicts,” he explained.
A party must always be proactive in addressing conflicts and you can only do that by having structures in place that are neutral, allowing party members to express their disagreement and concerns, as this will help enhance party’s performance and create a conducive environment, said Kamwenyah.
“People only get frustrated when they feel they are not being heard, henceforth, structural neutral resolutions are the best remedy in minimizing the backlash within parties and avoid destructive as well as distraction conflicts,” he opined.
For these parties to remain significant players on the political landscape for a long time, they must have a vision, strong democratic leadership and the ability to manage differences, analysts advise.