Namibia: Ministers in Political Wilderness

SWAPO'S victory by a reduced margin has left 13 ministers and deputy ministers who did not make it to the National Assembly at the benevolence of president Hage Geingob to throw them a lifeline.

The ruling party won 63 seats out of a possible 96, with the official opposition in parliament, the Popular Democratic Movement, taking 16 seats, and new kid on the block, the Landless People's Movement, winning four seats to take second and third spots, respectively.

In the 2014 elections, Swapo won 76 seats in the National Assembly, giving the party more than a two-thirds majority in the house which only has 96 seats.

Swapo ministers who are beyond 63rd on the parliamentary list cannot get automatic appointment to their Cabinet positions as they are no longer members of parliament. They will have to hold their collective breaths in the hope that Geingob appoints them to parliament before reappointing them to Cabinet.

These include Engel Nawatiseb (deputy information minister), Priscilla Beukes (deputy land reform minister), Erkki Nghimtina (labour minister), Charles Namoloh (safety and security minister), Maureen Hinda-Mbuende (deputy home affairs minister), Becky Ndjoze-Ojo (deputy higher education minister) and Veikko Nekundi (deputy public enterprises minister).

In addition are Piet van der Walt (deputy economic planning minister), Lidwina Shapwa (justice deputy minister), Anna Shiweda (agriculture deputy minister), Sankwasa James Sankwasa (works deputy minister), Chief Samuel Ankama (deputy minister in the OPM) and Tommy Nambahu (labour deputy minister).

The Namibian Constitution dictates that the president can appoint members to parliament for their skills, expertise or status.

Political expert Henning Melber said the question that Geingob faces now is whether to reward those who were loyal to him, or try to appease some due to party divisions.

"Does he reward the loyalists in 'Team Hage', or will he try to appease some of the internal party dissidents, who might have been instrumental in supporting the 'independent' presidential candidate of Swapo?"

"I think it will be less a matter of those left out in the cold than of the strategic thinking of the president, who might be brought in, and who might be left out. He has some tough decisions to make before 21 March, also as regards the Cabinet," said Melber.

On Swapo losing its two-thirds majority in parliament, political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah described the reduced margin of victory as one that would mean most people would be voted out of parliament by 2024.

When it comes to filling the eight nomination positions, Kamwanyah said: "The pressure is on the president to try to save them, but they are too many, and he can only take eight with him".

Describing the political scenery as having changed, the political expert said it would no longer be 'business as usual' as the country is moving from "voting for loyalty to voting on issues. This means the party has to deliver, otherwise it would be voted out".

Melber agreed with Kamwanyah, saying the honeymoon for Swapo is over, and that the party cannot continue to score votes on the liberation card.

"People, especially the better informed in urban centres and the central Namibian regions, are no longer loyal to a party and its leaders who make promises without delivery," reasoned Melber.

He added that Swapo needs to undergo a moral and ethical rebirth, and push for more young people to join its structures.

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