Namibia’s longtime ruling party may see its grip on this desert nation weakened in elections that began Friday, with a challenge from a new breakaway party hoping to attract voters dissatisfied with corruption and leadership scandals.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who is seeking a second five-year term, was among the first to vote when polls opened in the two-day election.

His party has dismissed the new opposition, saying the elections will prove a decisive win for the country’s former guerrilla movement — the South West African People’s Organization, or SWAPO.

Fourteen parties are taking part in the elections with 12 contesting the presidential poll.

Presidential contender Hidipo Hamutenya, a former foreign minister, is hoping to challenge SWAPO’s absolute majority with his Rally for Democracy and Progress, or RDP formed in 2007.

Election officials reported that voting Friday went smoothly. A few stations opened late because the wrong voting materials were delivered, and two officials were arrested, accused of tampering with the ballot boxes.

Another day of voting was scheduled Saturday in this vast desert nation, half the size of Alaska, which is home to more than 2 million people.

There are 1.2 million registered voters and results are expected as early as Monday or by Dec. 4.

Pohamba was hand-picked by the country’s first democratically elected president, Sam Nujoma, one of southern Africa’s liberation heroes.

Loyalties to Nujoma and his party are still strong and the Government has won praise for creating a peaceful and stable democracy.

But there has been growing concerns about the hold it exerts over the country.

“It’s a 100 percent good thing that we have some competition,” said Victor Jacobs, 52. “SWAPO was doing what they wanted for too long.”

Some believe that a landslide victory for SWAPO, which won the last elections with 75 percent of votes cast, may be less convincing this time round.

“While the RDP won’t be able to challenge SWAPO’s rule, it will be able to take a few votes, minimizing the percentage of parliamentary seats the former liberation movement has,” said analyst Judy Smith-Hohn from the South African-based Institute for Security Studies.

At many polling stations elderly people lined up to vote before dawn.

Young people who were able to vote for the first time were also among those eager to cast their ballots.

The electoral commission of Namibia had to revise its registered voters figure Friday.

Opposition parties contested the 1.36 million registered voters, pointing out that 50 percent of Namibians were under 16 years of age, according to census figures.

For the first time votes will be counted at the polling stations starting when polls close Saturday night and results posted outside to curtail an election rigging, which four political parties allege happened in 2004.

The electoral commission also had to back down from having a SWAPO-owned company print the ballots. Instead they were printed in neighboring South Africa.

There are 987 polling stations and 580 mobile booths to cater for this sparsely populated country spread over harsh terrain.

Counting ballots took almost a week’s time in the last elections.

Source: AP, 20091127

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