Pohamba opens raceBy: JAN POOLMAN
PRESIDENT Hifikepunye Pohamba is back-pedalling on rallying support for incumbent Swapo vice president Hage Geingob.
During a Swapo meeting on Monday, the President denied that he was ‘secretly’ campaigning for Geingob.
In the national preparatory meeting for the Swapo congress that was held on Monday, Pohamba said there was no truth in stories that he had nominated Geingob to run for the vice president position again, saying: “I am only supporting his candidature because he is my deputy.”
The deputy secretary general of Swapo, Nangolo Mbumba, confirmed the Monday meeting, but said he was not prepared to discuss what Pohamba had said in the closed-door meeting.
The story that Pohamba had nominated Geingob emanated from an earlier Politburo meeting where nominations for the position of vice president were sought. At the meeting, the President is said to have asked Geingob whether he would run for the position again, upon which Geingob replied in the affirmative.
Prime Minister Nahas Angula, who was also nominated as a candidate but declined, was quoted in the media as saying he declined because the President had thrown his weight behind another candidate.
At the Monday plenary session, Pohamba said that he did not nominate Geingob and even wanted Geingob, sitting next to him, to confirm this.
Subsequent to Geingob and Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana’s nomination as candidates for the position of vice president, media reports said Pohamba had quietly approached regional Swapo leaders, including governors, to campaign for support for Geingob.
A number of leaders The Namibian has spoken to over the past weeks confirmed that they had been approached by Pohamba or people close to him to garner support for Geingob.
But on Monday, The Namibian was informed, Pohamba denied that he had been secretly campaigning for Geingob. He said some other leaders might still be nominated at the weekend’s Swapo Central Committee meeting and stressed that the one who emerged victorious at the end of the congress would get his full support.
Some Swapo leaders have openly expressed displeasure with the President for favouring one candidate and campaigning for him.
“It is a risky strategy for the sitting President to support a candidate if he is not sure that his preferred successor will be victorious at the end of the year’s Swapo congress,” said Graham Hopwood, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
He said if the candidate endorsed by the President does not emerge victorious at the congress, “it could weaken his authority for the remaining two years of his rule as he is more likely to be characterised as a lame duck president.”
“However, it’s important to remember that the President hasn’t yet publicly endorsed any candidate, so he would only be in a weaker position if the candidate he backs in public does not win in November. If he feels his preferred candidate is not gaining momentum, then he may choose to remain neutral at the congress,” Hopwood said.
In 2004, former President Sam Nujoma publicly supported Pohamba against Hidipo Hamutenya and Nahas Angula.
The head of Political Science at the University of Namibia (Unam), Victor Tonchi, is of the opinion that Pohamba can lose nothing if his preferred candidate fails to obtain the majority vote at the congress, as his time in office is running out.
“There is a difference between a preferred candidate and a candidate imposed by the President on the congress.”
According to Tonchi, the latter should never be an option as this is in conflict with the democratic principles of Swapo.
He said if the congress decided on another candidate than Pohamba’s preferred one, it would be a clear sign that the internal democracy of Swapo had taken root and then “the President has to swallow his pride and accept the decision taken by the people”.
The Swapo Central Committee will meet from tomorrow afternoon and on Saturday the meeting will discuss preparations for the upcoming congress as well as the nomination of candidates for the positions of party vice president, secretary general and deputy secretary general.