The January 15 by-elections have come and gone, leaving contestants and political parties to reflect on their performance. It will be sheer arrogance on our part if we play down the poll victory of independent candidate Knowledge Ipinge at Walvis Bay and the remarkable showing of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) in the Keetmanshoop Urban by-election. Ipinge, who is enjoying the support of young activists linked to Job Amupanda’s Affirmative Repositioning movement, received 1 636 votes compared to Swapo’s candidate and closest rival Sirie Topulathana, who got 1 313 votes.
At Keetmanshoop Maxie Minnaar became the toast of the south after defeating Swapo candidate Festus Shilimela in Wednesday’s vote. Minnaar received a significant 1 958 votes, compared to Shilimela’s 1 306. On the other hand, Swapo convincingly retained the Khomasdal and Gobabis constituencies following poll victories for Samuel Angolo and Augustinus Tebele, respectively. Although much of the talk has been on the performance of the political parties and that of the independent candidates, voter apathy was unfortunately the big winner in the four by-elections.
According to the Electoral Commission of Namibia, 13 457 people had registered to vote in Gobabis, 11 534 in Keetmanshoop, 25 550 in Khomasdal and 23 169 in Walvis Bay Urban. The dismal turnout has been attributed to many factors, such as the timing of the elections, considering that many parents and guardians are preoccupied with enrolling their children for the new academic year, while some complained that a lower turnout was expected since the day was not proclaimed a public holiday. The fact of the matter is that there have been significant signs that enthusiasm to vote in local and regional authority elections has been waning in the country if one looks closely at past elections.
The local and regional authority elections are very important in our democracy and it impacts heavily on service delivery as well as bread and butter issues. Therefore it is disheartening to see that the various stakeholders have not done much – critically and genuinely – in addressing this sad state of affairs. It is true that voter apathy has root causes and many factors contribute to it. It is thus imperative that the ECN strengthen its capacity and team up with the relevant stakeholders including the media, political parties and civil society, with the aim of introducing sophisticated campaign initiatives. Voter apathy is sadly hurting our democracy and we can’t just watch on with folded arms, hoping things will eventually get better. Increasing voter apathy is a very dangerous trend, which may have negative consequences on legitimacy and other components of democracy.