13 August 2010

Namibia: RDP U-Turn No Surprise

Windhoek — Political analyst, Graham Hopwood, says he is not surprised to see the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) turning its back on the coalition of opposition parties.

"If this is an election coalition, then it makes sense for the RDP to go it alone, because it came second in most constituencies at the last election with the exception of UDF and NUDO strongholds," says Hopwood.

He adds that the RDP stands the best chance to clinch seats in the regional council election on its own, and hence does not need the support that comes with a coalition.

Moreover, says Hopwood, it would have been difficult for the RDP to choose which constituencies it would stand down for other opposition parties.

Another factor, he says, is that the RDP might have chosen to get out of the coalition talks to see if it can challenge the SWAPO Party on its own.

Apart from UDF and NUDO, Hopwood says other opposition parties would, with difficulty, manage to get regional council seats, but might stand a chance to get some at local authority level because of the proportional representation electoral system.

He is of the opinion that manoeuvring in the opposition camp will not make much of a dent on SWAPO Party support, considering that during the last regional council elections, the combined opposition party votes failed to challenge SWAPO Party dominance.

"This [the upcoming regional council and local authority elections] will be a difficult election for the opposition in general. The RDP will have to campaign very hard, because it is not very visible at the moment," says Hopwood.

Professor Bill Lindeke agrees that the RDP's diminished visibility might pose an added challenge to the party.

"The RDP has to get back into the game. It stayed out of the budget debates, the anniversary celebrations and is on the sidelines of the SADC Summit," says Lindeke, adding: "They are in trouble; the RDP seems to be an urban opposition and it is thus not clear if it can successfully mobilise in rural constituencies."

While Lindeke thinks a coalition arrangement would have helped the RDP, he is also not surprised that it moved out on its own.

"It never looked like there was policy consensus, except that the opposition parties don't want the ruling party in place. It has a lot to do with group identities and group representation. It never seemed likely for a grand coalition."

Phanuel Kaapama says the RDP move would not make much difference.

"In some instances, it could be argued that the coalition might have assisted to bring together divided votes, but in other constituencies where the ruling party won without getting more than 50 percent of the votes, it would not," said Kaapama.

He says the "Okahandja experiment" where opposition parties came together to contest the by-election showed that they got less votes than each got individually during the last regional and local elections.

"This is a lesson parties cannot completely ignore. Sometimes, coalitions concocted at national level can lead to voters staying away at regional level. And where national leaders tell local leaders they cannot contest, it can cause political uneasiness in parties," argues Kaapama.

He says the SWAPO Party only really has to contend with its own inside battles for positions than to contend with the opposition.

"But that is not the only factor. It also depends on the candidates it will field.

If this is not an issue for voters, can we then argue that even if SWAPO puts forward a donkey as a candidate, people would still vote for it? SWAPO's challenge is how it manages the current leadership battles at local level."

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