Namibia begins voting in general election



Namibia begins voting in general election Windhoek: Namibians began voting on Friday in general elections expected to see the ruling South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) return to power, despite a tough challenge from a new breakaway party.

Scores of people formed long queues outside voting stations across the country before polls opened at 7 am (0500 GMT).

President Hifikepunye Pohamba is seeking a second term in office, with his main competition posed by the upstart Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).

Former foreign minister Hidipo Hamutenya launched the new party two years ago, after he lost his bid to take over SWAPO following the retirement of liberation leader Sam Nujoma in 2004.

The two are the biggest of the 12 parties contesting the presidency, with RDP claiming about 250,000 supporters from an estimated 1.1 million voters.

Hamutenya was a popular figure within SWAPO, and he hopes to tap into dissatisfaction with the ruling party, which has ruled since independence in 1990.

"Everything is ready, the ballot boxes and election staff have been dispatched to all thirteen regions of Namibia," Rukkie Tjingaete, spokesman for the Electoral Commission of Namibia told reporters on Thursday.

No major organisational or logistic hiccups had been encountered in the preparations for the country's fourth elections since independence, he added.

Five years ago SWAPO took three-fourths of the vote for both president and Parliament -- the same result as the 1999 polls. The RDP doesn't expect to win, but does hope to become the main opposition party.

Tensions between the two parties have occasionally turned to stonings and intimidation against the RDP, with some SWAPO loyalists declaring some meeting spaces as "no go areas" for the breakaway.

But overall the election campaign has not been very energetic, with SWAPO praising roads, clinics and classrooms built in the past five years by its own government, but being vague about future targets.

Most opposition parties promise free education, appealing to the poorest Namibians whose children often drop out because they cannot afford the much-hated "school development fees".

The opposition also say they will fight corruption and nepotism in government.

Voters receive one ballot to select a party for parliament and one to vote directly for presidential candidates.

Polling stations are to remain open until 9 pm on Friday and reopen on Saturday for a second day of voting.

For the first time, counting will start directly after voting and results will be posted on the outside of each polling station. However, verified and final results will officially be announced several days later.

Bureau Report