Can Namibia’s Long-Ruling Party Reverse Its Path of Decline?

Can Namibia’s Long-Ruling Party Reverse Its Path of Decline?
Namibian President Hage Geingob arrives to cast his vote in the country’s election, Windhoek, Namibia, Nov. 27, 2019 (AP photo by Brandon van Wyk).

WINDHOEK, Namibia—In an era of political flux around the world, Namibia has long been an outpost of stubborn consistency. The ruling SWAPO Party has won every election since the country’s independence in 1990. Generally, the only matter for political debate was which opposition party would out-perform the others.

That changed in the most recent general election in November. Dogged by an economic downturn and a damaging corruption scandal, SWAPO faced its first serious political challenge in 30 years, while President Hage Geingob’s bid for a second five-year term was nearly derailed by a surge in support for an outsider candidate. The ruling party still managed to eke out a victory, but at the cost of its two-thirds supermajority in parliament. The election was a major alarm bell for both SWAPO and Geingob, who must now work to rebuild public support ahead of further electoral contests scheduled for later this year.

There was genuine optimism surrounding Geingob’s presidency when he first took office in March 2015. In the previous year’s elections, SWAPO had claimed 80 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. Geingob, a longtime ruling party insider who served as Namibia’s first prime minister from 1990 until 2002, garnered an unprecedented 87 percent of the vote. Buoyed by this strong support, the new president boldly declared a “war on poverty” and introduced an ambitious development blueprint called the Harambee Prosperity Plan.

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