Swapo's Itula albatross

Swapo says it is consulting its lawyers on how best to deal with the Dr Panduleni Itula situation, amid increasing calls for the party to expel the dentist, who has now been confirmed as a presidential candidate for the 27 November elections.

21 October 2019 | Local News

Swapo effectively has two presidential candidates for next month's election - one duly elected by the party's congress of 2017, and an unorthodox one that is seeking to exploit perceived loopholes in the former liberation movement's constitution. President Hage Geingob was ratified by formal party structures as its sole presidential candidate for the November 27 elections, but around his neck is an albatross called Dr Panduleni Itula, a UK-trained dentist who independently carved out his own path towards the state presidency. And, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', in which a sailor who shot a friendly albatross was forced to wear its carcass around his neck as punishment, Itula is a burden that the formal Swapo structures have not been able to rid the party's neck of. Academics in Swapo and the party's own think tank have exhausted all avenues of its constitution to find that killer clause that would put the final nail into the coffin of Itula's unprecedented ambition, but seemingly to no avail.

Now the party literally has two candidates - although the dentist is not formally considered as such by party insiders.

Both men registered their candidacies with the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) last week.

Party secretary-general Sophia Shaningwa was in foul mood on Friday when asked what action, if any, the party was contemplating against the man considered a “rebel candidate” by the establishment.

“You are so cowardice, you are asking me [instead of Itula] (sic),” she told journalists at the ECN headquarters after the party had registered Geingob as its sole candidate. Shaningwa was reacting to questions on what action the party intended to take against Itula. “I'm not a culprit, the culprit is there.”

“On whose flag is he standing? We will deal with the situation. Swapo Party is a party of discipline,” the former Omusati governor said.

She said it was none of the journalists' business that the party has been dragging its feet on Itula's candidacy, which was birthed earlier this year, but was laughed off like an amateur comedian's joke.

Commenting on the possibility of Itula contesting as an independent candidate while retaining his Swapo membership, President Geingob in an interview with New Era in March this year said: “Don't forget I'm a political scientist. How do you field an independent candidate within Swapo?

“The party constitution is very clear that the candidate has to be the president of Swapo. To be an independent candidate you have to leave Swapo.

“Even then, you have to look at the Namibian Constitution - it's not that simple. People have freedom to say things - stupid or clever.”

Swapo said over the weekend that it is consulting its lawyers on how best to deal with the Itula situation, amid increasing calls for the party to expel the dentist.

On the possibility of being ushered through the exit door, Itula yesterday said: “I shall retaliate with devastating consequences.”

He did not elaborate on this.

A party insider says Swapo was “caught off-guard” by Itula's candidacy.

“It seems all along the view was that Itula would not garner enough votes in the regions to register. Little did the party realise that the anger and resentment seems overwhelming, because of economic hardship, especially around the issue of fishing striking workers that were dismissed and the party did nothing,” the party official said.

There is also a feeling within Swapo that the party helped create an unwanted precedent by not plucking holes in its constitution, especially after one of its members, Katjanaa Kaurivi, stood as independent candidate for the Otjombinde constituency elections in 2015.

Kaurivi became a councillor by beating Swapo-endorsed candidate Karii Marenga with 1 396 votes, while the latter received 681 votes.

“The issue of Otjombinde independent candidate, where the party did nothing [set a bad precedent]. These were the undercurrents which seem to have been ignored,” another party insider said.


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