Riding on a wave of public discontent with the ruling party Swapo, Dr Panduleni Itula launched a popular run for the Namibian presidency in the November 2019 elections.
Dr Itula’s phenomenon for change appealed to the young and old alike!
The Fishrot documentary, which aired earlier that month, had cast the ruling Swapo party in a bad light.
Alas, nine months later, Dr Itula launched a political party, the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC), during August 2020.
What remains to be seen is whether Dr Itula can successfully canvas the 242 657 he managed to garner in the 2019 elections (29.4%), or whether he was a one-trick pony, whose ascendance as the number one challenger to sitting President Hage Geingob was a once-off event, made only possible by circumstances that are unlikely to present themselves again.
A number of factors
strengthened Dr Itula’s run for the Presidency; the fact that he was running as an independent candidate whilst retaining his membership to the Swapo Party ensured a support base amongst party members who were disgruntled with the leadership.
They voted for Itula as a form of protest!
Itula’s charismatic campaign style and his citing of the Namibian constitution was a breath of fresh air amongst the youth that was impressed by his near-perfect articulation and his ability to relate and hold their attention.
Another factor that enabled Itula to rise to prominence was voter distrust with the Electronic Voter Machines (EVMs), which the Supreme Court later ruled to be incongruent with the Namibian Constitution (for lack of paper trail) and the relative hopelessness many of the countries citizens feel at what they regard as 30 years of misrule and mismanagement of the country’s resources by the ruling party Swapo.
Dr Itula’s phenomenon for change was a popular grassroots movement that brought into public discourse the concept of independent candidacy.
Since then, independent candidates have sprung up in various constituencies because of their seemingly discontent with party politics that requires concessions to be made even when these concessions run against a member’s conscience or principles.
Namibia’s regional council and local authority elections are scheduled to take place on the 25 November 2020.
It remains to be seen whether Itula can repeat his showing in the 2019 elections, which is unlikely to happen.
Dr Itula, as a brand, was the torch-bearer of the independent candidate movement in Namibia.
Local council elections require candidates who are well-known activists in their communities.
People tend to vote for those they are familiar with. Besides Itula himself, no other members of the Independent Patriots for Change (IPC) have any semblance of a public profile within the political space. During the 2019 elections, Itula was running against the ruling party candidate; however, in the 2020 elections, his party will be competing directly with many other political parties and associations.
The most popular ones being the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) (which did relatively well in the 2019 elections), the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), the National United Democratic Organisation (Nudo) and the new kid on the block, the Affirmative Repositioning movement (AR).
All these parties and associations seem to have a solid support base; PDM, for example, has a historic support base dating back to the 1980s DTA.
Nudo has a traditional base amongst the ethnic OvaHerero, and LPM has made in-roads into the marginalised communities of the south, judging from the Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
The AR movement has, over the years, built a popular support base amongst the youth and it is waiting to be seen if this support will be translated into votes.
Dr Itula’s IPC social media campaign has yet to give itself a serious character that Namibian’s at constituency level can relate too.
Itula has so far pronounced himself on the rule of law, respect for the constitution and the respect for private property.
These pronouncements have lent him a support base amongst white Namibians. Dr Itula’s courting of the white vote and his seeming opposition to the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) has turned the youth who had campaigned for him in 2019 against him.
Others have gone as far as labelling him a sell-out to white monopoly capital.
Dr Itula’s policy pronouncement on NEEEF was perhaps premature given the fact that NEEEF is a national policy which was introduced at parliamentary level and is not necessarily a matter of discourse or subject for debate at regional and local authority level.
This tactical error has cast one of Namibia’s most colourful politicians in a bad light and given his political opponents sufficient ammunition to de-campaign him.
With two months left for political parties and their candidates to campaign and canvas for votes, we are waiting to see who amongst the competing entities will emerge victorious. An informed opinion will suggest that Swapo will once again dominate the councils.
The ruling party will be followed by PDM in terms of representation with the other parties scouring for the leftovers. Political pundits foresee the AR being represented in the major urban centres; this, however, is dependent on the quality of candidates they choose to field.
Dr Itula’s IPC is likely to gain one or two seats, but as far as making any formidable in-roads or putting up a formidable challenge is concerned he may not farewell.
The 2020 regional and local authority elections are likely to prove that Dr Panduleni Itula is a One-trick pony, a one-man show whose fortunes are limited to his running as an independent candidate in the 2019 elections, a run that cannot be repeated!