WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) — Polls opened Wednesday in Namibia, where the ruling party faces its biggest challenge since independence nearly three decades ago. The resource-rich southern African nation’s registered 1.3 million voters were choosing the president and National Assembly members.
The ruling SWAPO has been shaken by a corruption scandal and the weakening economy. Meanwhile, more than 700,000 of the country’s 2.5 million people have registered for relief during a drought that affects the region.
President Hage Geingob faces a challenger from within his own party who is running as an independent. Dr. Panduleni Itula has been appealing to youth; some 46% of them are unemployed. The election includes more than 400,000 voters born since Namibia gained its independence from South Africa.
Itula made a last-minute legal challenge to Namibia’s use of electronic voting machines in this election but it was rejected. The country was the first in sub-Saharan Africa to use the machines.
Geingob after voting on Wednesday called elections a contest, not a war, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
An unprecedented runoff election might be needed if no presidential candidate can get over the 50%-plus-one vote threshold.
In the last election, in 2014, SWAPO won 80% percent of the vote, its highest share ever, while Geingob won 87% of the presidential vote.
The ruling party was shaken this month when two cabinet ministers resigned after Iceland’s biggest seafood company, Samherji, was accused of paying bribes to local politicians and officials for access to Namibia’s fishing quota, a key economic resource along with mining.
Political analysts have said they do not expect the scandal to have a big impact on the vote as many people already had made up their minds.
Other candidates include Namibia’s first female presidential candidate, Esther Muinjangue.
The official opposition Popular Democratic Movement, led by McHenry Venaani, has largely been campaigning around the issue of SWAPO’s two-thirds majority in parliament, which Venaani says has fueled impunity and graft.
The Landless People’s Movement led by Bernadus Swartbooi has focused on land expropriation in Namibia, which has one of the world’s highest inequality rates.