The dentist who shook a nation

06 February 2020 | Opinion

When the country's former chief dentist Panduleni Itula strode onto the political scene, after throwing his hat into the ring to challenge Hage Geingob for the presidency of the nation, some may not have thought much about his chances or his penchant for legalese.

After all, those who knew of the good doctor's political credentials saw a stickler for technical and legal issues, and perhaps not the charisma of a man who could take on an incumbent who harvested 87% of the vote in 2014.

Yesterday Itula's Supreme Court bid to have the November 2019 presidential election nullified ultimately went down in flames, and yet he scored a significant victory for his country.

The court declared invalid a decision by then line minister Charles Namoloh not to implement a lawfully stipulated verifiable paper trail for electronic voting machines (EVMs), ahead of the 2014 general election. This order of invalidity now forces the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to implement a paper trail in future elections, ensuring a critical check and balance for the country's voters.

There has also been a seismic shift in Namibian politics thanks to Itula, whose candidacy opened the door to traditional Swapo voters choosing to give their voters to opposition parties in the National Assembly poll.

This is evidenced by the combined opposition vote escalating from a mere 20% in 2014 to about 34% in 2019. Although this may irk the current dominant faction in Swapo, it augurs well for multiparty democracy and put an end to impunity brought about by political arrogance.

Itula has also sparked deep introspection within the ruling party and government, with Geingob already indicating he will be implementing one of Itula's campaign promises - the reduction of the country's massively bloated cabinet.

Many underestimated Itula, but his magnanimity in the face of ultimate defeat yesterday spoke volumes. Whatever happens going forward, Itula has left an indelible mark on Namibia, and more importantly, he has given voters and aspiring independent politicians more electoral options for the road ahead.

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