There are no qualms about fairness in this election. The results of the advance voting (by diplomats and seafarers) have already been released in the national media. Unsurprisingly, the ruling SWAPO party has a huge lead in the votes, as it always does.
Instead of keeping the advance votes confidential until the end of voting day, the government happily released the early numbers, and the ruling party then exploited those results in its campaigning.
“You must support the winner,” a SWAPO vice-president told a campaign rally a few days ago, citing the early results. “Do not waste your vote on losers.”
The release of the advance votes is yet another state-assisted advantage for SWAPO, the former liberation movement that has won landslide victories in every election since Namibia’s independence in 1990.
Television coverage is slanted heavily in favor of SWAPO. The main national broadcaster, the Namibian Broadcasting Corp., gave an overwhelming 82 per cent of its political news coverage to SWAPO in the first week of this month, according to an independent survey.
The next highest party was given a meagre 4 per cent of the television coverage, while the main opposition party got no coverage at all.
The opposition fared no better on the streets. When a small group of activists from the biggest opposition party tried to visit voters in a northern town this month, they were surrounded by 200 ruling-party supporters, including three hammer-wielding men. The opposition members were threatened with violence for entering the town “without a mandate.”
The election in Namibia this week, like most other African elections, is a foregone conclusion. Opposition parties do exist, but they don’t stand a chance.
With a few honorable exceptions (Ghana among them), this is still the normal situation in most African countries. The advantages of incumbency are massive. Ruling parties tend to stay in power, year after year, even decade after decade.
Sometimes, in conversations with Africans, I make an analogy between democracy and mobile phones. If you travel anywhere in Africa, the best cellphone service is provided in countries where there is lively competition among several private mobile phone companies. The worst is in countries where a state-owned company has a monopoly on cellphone services, or where there is weak competition between two companies.
Democracy is the same. Just like mobile phone consumers, African voters get better service from their government when there is vibrant competition among several strong parties, with power rotating fairly from party to party. Unfortunately it’s still a rare phenomenon, but perhaps it will change when Africans demand the same level of service from their governments that they expect from their mobile phone companies.