Swapo’s loss of votes in the presidential and parliamentary elections last year failed to energize the party fast enough to address concerns. This may have affected the electorate in the 2020 regional vote.
While all votes are not counted and confirmed and the strong Swapo base of the North is not yet reported, assumptions about a significant loss of support for the ruling party are premature. Pundits and opposition parties should take care not to overreact.
If the trend continues in the non-Swapo traditional base areas, to show a voting tally that has reduced the ruling party’s sway, then it is very telling. It could mean that Swapo is perceived to have failed to reinforce its base, stay on message, and bind wounds fast enough.
Swapo said “we have heard you” when addressing the reduction of its national political scope. And yet, it continued to rule the same way, saying the same things. This perceived inaction did not help the ruling party in the regional election polls this week.
The pandemic occurring while Swapo was presumably reaching out to shore up support, hit Namibia hard. At the local elections ballot box, people may not have recognized the fact that the government did a creditable job in protecting Namibia during the pandemic. It could be that the informed electorate looked at the economic disaster that existed BEFORE the pandemic. Then, they looked at the disaster that has hit the ailing economy now, and found the government’s reactions lethargic and wanting.
On a local and community level, deep economic and policy analysis is not the inspiration for voting preferences. Ordinary people voted based on their generational poverty. Promises for change were unfulfilled. They are concerned that they live in unsafe tin-roof shacks and have no jobs. They are concerned about poor government service delivery and unaddressed local corruption.
The might of the ruling party over the last decades has been its ability to reach (to varying degrees) across ethnic, racial and class lines. Those days are past. People are reverting to their own racial and ethnic enclaves for political expression.
There is a shift in Namibia that can no longer be denied. Time and tide wait for no man; Swapo thought they had unlimited time to figure out how to get things moving. The realities of 2020 were before the voters and they have reacted. Change is here. Those who looked for votes by rehashing anything else but 2020’s concerns, lost ground.
The young majority in Namibia is interested in fast results and tangible shifts. The patience of the people to enjoy gradual change may be waning. Poor people wearied of hearing words about opportunities while watching the elite get richer. They became angry while they have no job prospects. Swapo can resurrect itself only if its aging leadership and other adherents can deal with 2020’s issues. They must learn to speak the language of a younger, ‘woke’ electorate. Can Swapo’s members and supporters put the needs of the Namibian people before their own desires for comfort? In that answer may lie the future existence of the party.
The celebrating ‘winners’ of constituencies now must face their constituents who have unrealistic beliefs about instant change. Some cast their ballots believing that having a new mayor means they will have a job the next day. They will learn a painful truth soon enough.
The ‘power’ of an individual leader in a rural area is quite small. They require support from the larger government and their other councilors and leaders to make things happen. Building coalitions, negotiating, and developing rapport will be invaluable skills. How many of the newbies (and even those who had been there for many years) have these skills?
Some of the newly elected politicians will have no political organizing funds. They have no structures that support them and no idea of how the lethargic civil service works. They will make mistakes and say strange things. Little will change in the short term. Within six months, a few of those newly elected will come under fire from some who voted for them. Moving a government bureaucracy to address new concerns will not be accomplished in the short term.
Let us hope that government officials, not known for swift and efficient service delivery, aren’t given the subtle nod to sideline the needs of local authorities that are no longer controlled by Swapo.
Time moves on steadily regardless of the needs of human beings. The tides roll in implacably, regardless of whether people are prepared to manage them. Swapo has bowed to time and tide whether it wished to or not.