Namibia: Independence Elections in 1989

Extracted from: "Namibia" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 258-260.

The elections for the Constituent Assembly were held from 7-11 November 1989. Ten parties and alliances contested the elections, with the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) and the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) as the main participants. The election took place seven months after the implementation of UN Resolution 435 commenced. The elections were held under the aegis of the United Nations. UNTAG civilian administrators, police monitors and military personnel worked closely in cooperation with the South African Government and its Administrator General in Namibia, Mr L Pienaar, paving the way for voter registration and elections.

The two major contestants had abundant financial and material resources at their disposal, SWAPO from overseas and DTA from South Africa, enabling them to conduct an intensive election campaign. The smaller parties were in a less fortunate position. As the then SWA Broadcasting Corporation was still under South African influence and supervision, the election broadcasts were biased, favouring parties opposing SWAPO. The printed media was divided in its support. The Afrikaans daily, The Republikein, favoured the DTA and the English daily, the Namibian, supported SWAPO, although it endeavoured to maintain an independent stance.

Electoral districts were established according to the boundaries of the magisterial and administrative areas which were employed by the South African administration. Voters could cast their vote outside their areas of registration by way of a tendered ballot. Eventually 96 281 tendered ballots were cast. Eighteen years was accepted as the minimum age to vote. Any person "ordinarily resident in the territory and (who) has been so resident for a continuous period of not less than four years immediately before the date for application for registration", or any person who was the natural child of any person born in Namibia was entitled to register and vote. Such arrangements allowed many former Namibians living outside Namibia, to vote. The total registration figure of 701 483 thus reflected an inflated number of voters. Most of the registration and polling officers were public officials, the majority of them whites.

When the election came to an end on 11 November, 95.55% of the registered voters had voted. The final results were announced on 14 November. The UN representative in Namibia, Mr M Ahtisaari, declared that the electoral process had at each stage been free and fair and was conducted to his satisfaction.

Not all the participating parties agreed that the process was totally free and fair, but accepted the result. They did not want to delay the independence process. 670 830 valid votes were counted and 9 858 votes (1.45%) rejected. SWAPO obtained the majority of the votes and received overwhelming support in the former Ovamboland, the most populated area of Namibia. 384 874 voters (57.33%) were cast for SWAPO and 191 532 (28.55%) for the main opposition party DTA. The third strongest movement, the United Democratic Front (UDF) attracted the support of 37 874 voters (56.5%), Aksie Christelik Nasionaal (ACN) 23 728 (3.53%), National Patriotic Front (NPF) 10 693 (1.59%), Federal Convention of Namibia (FCN) 10 452 (1.56%), and the Namibia National Front (NNF) 5 344 (0.80%).

As the proportional electoral method and the surplus quota principle were applied, all the mentioned parties were represented in the Constituent Assembly: SWAPO by 41; DTA by 21; UDF by 4; ACN by 3; NPF, FCN and NNF by 1 each. Smaller parties participating in the election, but not represented in the Constituent Assembly, were: SWAPO-Democrats with 3 161 votes (0.47%); Christian Democratic Action for Social Justice (CDA) with 2 495 votes (0.37%), and the Namibia National Democratic Party (NNDP) with 984 votes (0.15%).

A measure of ethnic loyalty was reflected in the outcome of the elections. The majority party SWAPO was nearly totally supported by the Oshivambo speaking population of Namibia, constituting 52% of the total population. The DTA was predominantly supported by the Hereros, Namas, Coloured and Whites, all minority ethnic groups in Namibia. SWAPO represented the liberation movement, having militarily and politically fought for the independence of Namibia since the mid sixties, while the DTA was considered by many voters as the manifestation of the colonial past and as a satellite of the ruling National Party in South Africa. The more conservative whites voted for the ACN and most of the Damaras for the UDF.