The Covid-19 pandemic, which has posed a profound challenge for the delivery of elections in many countries this year, has led to questions over Namibia’s readiness to safely and securely hold its regional council and local authority polls in November this year.
Many countries have postponed key elections due to the prevailing pandemic, while there have been fresh calls for the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) and government to consider delaying the polls scheduled for 27 November, considering the strict measures imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus. Political commentators this week also weighed in on the issue, with some agreeing that the well-established parties were likely to benefit from the disruption caused by Covid-19.
“For the well-known parties with big names such as Swapo and PDM it is an advantage because they are known by many voters. Therefore, they may not need extensive campaigns.
But the less known parties are at a disadvantage,” said University of Namibia-based political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah.
His sentiments were echoed by the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) lecturer Admire Mare, who said parties with resources are better placed to campaign than those without financial and technological support.
On the contrary, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) executive director Graham Hopwood believes the pandemic will neither advantage nor disadvantage any political party.
“I think the opposition will likely want the elections to go ahead on time because they sense that the ruling party is weaker now following the 2019 election results,” he said.
Hopwood added that any delay would give Swapo a longer time to restore its image and sort out its divisions.
On the other hand, he said, Swapo might want to use the elections to re-mobilise its base and get its campaign machine moving again after the shock of last year’s results.
“The year 2021 will still be difficult for the party as the economy is going to struggle for some time and a Fishrot trial may bring more damaging revelations. So, the ruling party may want to get these elections out of the way,” he said.
In terms of party campaigns, Kamwanyah says the country will not see the politics of “large crowd” campaigns voters are used to. He said this would also have an implication in terms of information dissemination, which is critical for voters to make informed decisions on their choice of candidates.
In addition, he said, because of the reduced number for crowds, the nation is going to see a long and cumbersome process of voting on election day.
“In the coming days we may see a shift to a blinded campaign, partly online and partly face to face with a small group,” he said.
On party campaigns, Hopwood says much will depend on whether the restrictions on public gatherings to ten people and the curfew will be extended beyond mid-September.
“Perhaps the parties can agree on alternative ways of campaigning using social media and online events because it would seem larger gatherings will not be safe for several months,” said Hopwood.
“I think the situation should be reviewed after September 14 in view of the state of emergency regulations in place then. I am concerned because if a strict limit on public gatherings is still in place in November it is difficult to see how voting can take place ....”
He said the ECN should be planning for various scenarios including that the elections go ahead with social distancing and other health protocols in place. But he said if the numbers of positive cases continue to rise through September and October a postponement of the election should be considered.
Mare also feels this year’s campaigns will not be as usual. “Parties are going to use digital tools like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter and bulky SMS to try and circumvent lockdown and social distancing measures put in place by the government,” he said.
“Door-to-door and billboard campaigns will also be popular. Those with financial resources will use radio, television and online newspaper adverts to mobilise their voters.”