27 November 2012

Namibia: Swapo Elective Congress a 'Defining Moment' for Namibia

Namibia's governing party will hold an elective congress at end November to review its policy agenda and choose its top leadership.

The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) held its first National Policy Conference in September to discuss the way forward on key issues and the documents adopted will form part of the work programme for the congress.

Thirteen policy papers were presented for discussion on issues such as economic growth and income distribution, unemployment and poverty, youth development, delivery of quality healthcare and education, generational transition, and others. Among the priority topics for in-depth discussion was land acquisition and distribution, as well as gender equality.

The secretary-general of the party, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana said the land scarcity in Namibia has reached alarming proportions and the party cannot afford to postpone a strategic intervention in this regard. "Our people need access to land and nothing less," she said. "At the moment, the Swapo party is mobilising all its intellectual resources towards a reasonable response to this call."

While the policy review and analysis has generated less interest outside the party, a higher public profile has been accorded to the election of the top party leadership.

The incumbent party leader and President of Namibia, Hifikepunye Pohamba, is unopposed for the top party post.

However, since he is serving his second and last term as Namibian president, his election as party leader is not the issue at the congress as he is expected to stand down when his term of office as Namibian president ends in March 2015. He has been President since March 2005.

All eyes are fixed on the position of party vice-president whose winner, according to a succession policy adopted by the SWAPO Central Committee, would automatically be the party candidate in the presidential elections in two years time, in late 2014.

According to the SWAPO constitution, Pohamba can remain party leader after completing his two constitutional terms as State President.

Three candidates have been nominated to contest for the vice-presidency of the party. These are the incumbent party Vice President Hage Geingob, the Secretary General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, and the Secretary for Information and Mobilization, Jerry Ekandjo.

The three contenders are all seasoned party cadres, having joined SWAPO in the 1960s and 1970s during the country's liberation struggle.

Iivula-Ithana is the first woman to contest this position, and she is the first woman to hold the post of party secretary-general.

She is presently Namibia's Minister of Justice, while Geingob is Minister of Trade and Industry, and Ekandjo is Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development.

The other top party positions to be elected by the congress include the secretary-general and the deputy secretary-general.

In an exclusive interview with the Southern African News Features ahead of the watershed congress, the SWAPO party's Chief Whip in Parliament, Hon. Professor Peter Katjavivi, said the race for the vice-presidency will be a close one.

"It is difficult to make a prediction," he said, adding that he is confident that "whoever wins the elections will be capable of serving the party and people of Namibia."

"We are making good progress in our preparations for the congress, and we are all looking forward to the outcome of the congress."

He said other liberation movements from southern Africa and the rest of the world have been invited to attend the congress scheduled for 29 November to 2 December.

SWAPO has urged losing candidates to accept the decisions of the congress, adding that "when our individual ambitions fail within party structures, we should always learn to say 'next time' and remain under SWAPO party's umbrella, firmly and solidly."

"At stake is the fate of more than 2.3 million Namibians, who will be affected in one way or the other, by the congress decision on this matter. When the congress speaks, we should all listen and hold our hands in unity," SWAPO said in the statement ahead of the congress.

The party added that November is a "defining moment for Namibia."

As such, "it is never easy to swim through succession waves. When leaders change instruments of power, there are always fears to allay, and tough questions to answer."

"But the river must be crossed. We are on the banks of that river now. And cross it we must. Let that be our rendezvous with history, our date with destiny."

At the last general elections held in 2009, SWAPO won by two-thirds majority.

Namibia uses the First-Past-The-Post electoral system for presidential elections, in which the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner, and Proportional Representation (PR) is used for legislative elections.

Under the PR system, each political party submits a list of candidates and then the parties receive seats proportional to their overall share of the national vote. The National Assembly has 72 seats and for a party to have two-thirds majority it needs to secure 48 seats.

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