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Opposition parties in the spotlight

2014-03-20  Mathias Haufiku

Opposition parties in the spotlight
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By Mathias Haufiku   AS Namibia readies itself to celebrate 24 years of independence, New Era spoke to two renowned political analysts to garner their views on the role and status of opposition parties in the current dispensation. With elections just over eight months away, Dr Hoze Riruako says if opposition parties do not form alliances to strengthen their positions, they will pose no threat to Swapo at the polls, while Institute for Public Policy Research Executive Director Graham Hopwood says that in order for political parties to strengthen their positions they need to improve their levels of organisation and tap into issues that are relevant at the grassroots. “The aftermath of the political squabble on the eve of independence saw the demise of some political parties and in some instances saw the death of others [political parties]. I wonder if the following political parties still ring a bell for people on the street: SWAPO D, NNF, Aktur, NP, NUDO PP etc. The same can be said about the following individuals: Andreas Tjipanga, Paul Helmut, De Wet,” said Riruako. “However, it is important to note that most if not all of these political parties came about because of a political struggle within other party structures. Hence, they are seen as parties of renegade/disillusioned individuals void of good judgement and not worthy of support,” he said. The analyst says disunity is rife among the opposition parties because of infighting and the politics of succession, adding that the situation is further manipulated by the ruling party that capitalises on the disunity within the opposition to weaken and erode their support base. “The opposition in Namibia seem to be each other’s worst enemy in that whenever a new party arrives on the political scene, it poaches people from other opposition parties. Both existing and new opposition parties fail to lure new members from the ruling party. In fact, any exodus from the ruling to the opposition is very rare,” he said. He said the fundamental problems facing opposition parties include the failure to make an impact on Swapo’s support base, change and adaptation of political ideologies and the lack of funding. “The opposition party should form alliances to strengthen their position. Opposition parties should emulate the experience of the Kenya opposition parties that merged and formed one strong movement that was able topple the ruling party,” he said. Hopwood says election results have been “remarkably static since 1994 with the opposition gaining about 25 percent of the vote at national elections. But what has been notable is that no opposition party has made serious inroads into Swapo’s support base.” Hopwood opines that when the CoD was formed in 1999, they took their support from other opposition parties that were dwindling, mainly the DTA. When the RDP contested the 2009 elections, they also mainly took support from other opposition parties. He noted that election results since 1994 have been similar with opposition support as a whole not waning, but individual parties have emerged and then faded away. Hopwood said the constitution creates democratic space for a multi-party system. Therefore there are opportunities for opposition parties to build support and gain representation. “However, I do believe they have been constrained by poor organisation, a lack of resources and limited ambition. For example, many opposition parties do not seek to recruit members across the country; the party funding system gives small opposition parties very limited finances to work with while private donors are not forthcoming; and several parties do not aim to have a national focus – they are in effect tribal parties that only look to one part of the country or one population group for support,” said Hopwood. With the funding sources of most opposition parties relatively unknown, Hopwood said: “Preferably funding should come from within the country’s borders. Donations above a certain size should be publicly declared and parties should have to account for their use of state funds to the Auditor General. At the moment, Namibian law requires that donations from foreign sources have to be publicly declared. But this does not seem to be enforced. We need a new law on party funding to make things more transparent.” He observed that most parties occupy the centre of the political spectrum and their manifestos, with the exception of one or two parties, are quite similar. “Most parties have not differentiated themselves from Swapo on key issues – although they might complain about the slow implementation of certain policies,” said Hopwood. However, said Hopwood, the track record of parties that have placed themselves clearly on the left (Swanu, Communist Party) or the right (MAG) has not been great. “The performance of parties of the left in the upcoming South African elections may indicate whether a party like the Economic Freedom Fighters could pick up support here. However, at the moment most Namibian parties are pitching their appeal to Namibian voters who appear rather centrist and moderate when it comes to policy positions.” Hopwood urged parties to organise themselves on a national level instead of looking only at a few regions or a handful of constituencies. “I have previously called for a threshold of three percent support for a party to have representation in parliament,” he said. Said Hopwood: “This would deter the one-man-band parties and those with narrow ethnic support bases which can still get a seat because of our proportional representation system – and in turn incentivise parties to build national support.”
2014-03-20  Mathias Haufiku

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