Swapo Winner Of First Election For Free Namibia

Posted: November 15, 1989

WINDHOEK, Namibia — Thirty years after it was formed to overthrow South African rule, the black guerrilla movement SWAPO yesterday won the first free election in Namibia's turbulent history.

Following five days of remarkably peaceful voting in a territory torn by 23 years of civil war, the South-West African People's Organization won 57.3 percent of the vote, double the total of its nearest competitor. But because SWAPO fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to dictate the constitution for an independent Namibia, it will have to negotiate with its rivals.

In a territory where a civil war raged as recently as April, and where partisans fought a few bloody clashes during the four-month election campaign, not a single party challenged yesterday's results. The U.N. representative in Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, last night certified the vote-counting as "free and fair" as required under the U.N. plan.

"The youngest democracy has given the whole world a shining lesson in democracy," Ahtisaari said, announcing that 97 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Deliberations on the constitution begin next week, when the Constituent Assembly elected yesterday will convene, with SWAPO holding 41 of the 72 seats. The multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) won 28.5 percent of the vote and 21 seats.

The seats were filled on a proportional basis among the seven parties winning the most votes in the U.N.-supervised election.

SWAPO's victory means that it can dominate the drafting of the nation's constitution and form of government. But SWAPO still will have to satisfy some rival parties to gather the 48 assembly votes needed for approval.

The assembly will form the government that will lead Namibia to independence, probably early next year, after 74 years of South African rule. The desert territory is Africa's last colony.

SWAPO trailed the DTA by 5 percentage points yesterday after 22 of Namibia's 23 electoral districts had reported. But the final district was Ovamboland, the populous northern territory that went 92 percent for SWAPO and pushed the party to victory.

The pro-Western DTA performed better than many Namibians had expected. The party won roughly 80 percent of Namibia's geographical territory, but was overwhelmed in Ovamboland, where half of the territory's 1.3 million people live.

The DTA, which served in the South African colonial government, was dismissed by SWAPO as puppets of Pretoria. Yesterday, South African President F. W. de Klerk said South Africa "accepts the outcome" of the elections and anticipated cooperating with Namibia in a "state of good-neighborliness."

The voting broke down largely along tribal lines in the racially polarized land. SWAPO, which is dominated by Ovambos, gathered 60 percent of its votes in Ovamboland, where 99.85 pecent of registered voters cast ballots.

Smaller, tribal-based parties finished far behind. The most successful was the United Democratic Front, which took 5.6 percent and four seats. The white- supremacist Action Christian National party won three seats. Three other parties won one seat each.

After waging a 23-year guerrilla war in which an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 SWAPO fighters died, SWAPO was surprisingly conciliatory and restrained after winning an election it had sought for so long.

"There will be no retribution," Hidipo Hamutenya, SWAPO's information chief, said outside SWAPO's downtown headquarters. "What has happened has happened. We extend the hand of friendship and negotiations to everyone."

Hamutenya said SWAPO welcomed the participation even of Namibians who were members of the South African-led counterinsurgency unit known as Koevoet. The paramilitary force led the bush war against SWAPO and was accused of atrocities against civilian SWAPO supporters.

"It is water under the bridge," Hamutenya said. "They (Koevoet) are people who can be productive."

Asked if SWAPO was disappointed after saying it would win up to 90 percent of the vote, Hamutenya replied: "We were up against enormous odds." He noted that SWAPO's leadership returned to Namibia only in June, a month before the campaigning began - after nearly three decades in exile.

Hamutenya appealed to Namibia's estimated 75,000 to 80,000 whites to remain in the territory. He said the new government would need their business and ranching skills.

"They are as Namibian as we are - no more, no less," Hamutenya said. "If they leave, we will all be losers."

Because of its election victory, SWAPO will dominate the new government that emerges from the Constitutent Assembly. Namibia's first president is likely to be the SWAPO president, Sam Nujoma, 60, a former railroad porter with a grade-school education.

"We are very happy. We have struggled all the years for this day," Nujoma told a gathering outside SWAPO headquarters yesterday.

During the election campaign, SWAPO softened its revolutionary and Marxist rhetoric. The movement proposes a "mixed" economy with Marxist and capitalist features. It says it will nationalize only certain of Namibia's limited industries, mostly mining, and will seize the property of only some white landowners, chiefly wealthy cattle ranchers with more than one farm.

"Whites have nothing to fear from a SWAPO government," Hamutenya said yesterday.

The DTA leader, white rancher Dirk Mudge, said: "If SWAPO comes up with a proposal we can live with, we will support it."

Mishake Muyongo, DTA's vice president and a former top SWAPO official, said the DTA would seek reconciliation with SWAPO.

"It is our task to build a new nation from a seriously divided people," Muyongo said.

Muyongo and Mudge were named by the DTA to two of the party's seats. Nujoma and Hamutenya will hold two of SWAPO's seats.

Without mentioning SWAPO by name, South Africa's administrator in Namibia, Louis Pienaar, congratulated "that party that has won the elections."

"This has not been an ordinary democratic election," Pienaar said last night. "This is a movement towards healing a rift caused by years and years of strife."

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