November 28, 2009 / 3:49 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-Namibia ruling party set to win elections

* Breakaway faction seen as strong opposition

* Total vote count not expected until Wednesday

(Adds closing of polls, ECN comment)

By Agnieszka Flak

WINDHOEK, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Namibia’s ruling party SWAPO looked set to hold onto power and the head of state appeared assured of a new five-year term as polls closed on Saturday after two-day parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) said it may take until Wednesday to count all the ballots from the 1.18 million registered voters scattered across the diamond-producing country that is home to 10 per cent of the world’s uranium output.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba and the South West African People’s Organization have faced a strong challenge from the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), which emerged as a breakaway faction of SWAPO in 2007.

The RDP is expected to become the new official opposition in the largely desert country and could threaten SWAPO’s two-thirds majority in parliament.

A two-thirds majority enables the ruling party to alter the constitution, which founding president Sam Nujoma did to extend the number of terms he could seek. Pohamba succeeded Nujoma in 2007.

Counting at the more than 3,000 polling stations began as soon as polls closed at 1900 GMT.

“First results should come in around noon on Sunday... but it may take until Wednesday to know the total numbers,” ECN Deputy Director of Operations Theo Mujoro told Reuters.

The RDP has tackled some traditional SWAPO strongholds and analysts say the strength of its challenge could make for more accountable and transparent government.

“It will be the whole country that will benefit because investors will see stability and no threat of policy reversal, as was the case with Zimbabwe where a single party dominated politics. This will lead to more foreign investment,” said Chibamba Kanyama, a political analyst in Zambia.

SWAPO has until now faced little opposition since leading the former German colony and South African protectorate to independence, but criticism of corruption could also threaten its solid majority.

Melissa Basson, a 29-year-old receptionist at a guesthouse in Windhoek, said she voted for the first time this year because she felt that a change in direction was possible.

“We need to ensure that development policies get implemented and Namibians get the services they need including housing, water and health... in all parts of the country,” she said.

Rich in resources and located between economic powerhouse South Africa and oil-producing Angola, Namibia has enjoyed a long period of political and economic prosperity that has made its 2.2 million people the envy of many in Africa.

RISE IN POVERTY, UNEMPLOYMENT

The global slowdown has exacerbated poverty and unemployment in Namibia and widened cracks in the healthcare and education systems.

The economy is expected to contract by 0.6 percent in 2009, before recovering in 2010 on higher commodity prices and a rise in mining output.

Voters said they expected the new leaders to improve access to clean water, help children in villages to attend schools beyond primary education and, most importantly, create more jobs.

While agreeing that the programmes the ruling party has been trying to implement are good, opposition and voters alike have criticised SWAPO’s lack of progress.

“SWAPO has been going in the right direction, but we need more of that... especially jobs,” said Kennecky Angula, a 46-year-old public service worker.

Voting stations opened on time on Saturday and no problems were reported. “Everything seems to be going very smoothly, very peaceful and according to plan,” said Tanki Mothae, a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer team.

The ECN said that for the first time votes would be counted at the polling stations and results would be posted outside them to ensure transparency.

During elections in 2004 in which SWAPO took 55 of the 72 seats, four opposition parties demanded a recount, alleging fraud. The recount confirmed SWAPO as the winner.

Fourteen parties are competing for the 72 seats this year and 12 presidential candidates have been listed. (Additional reporting by Shapi Shacinda in Johannesburg; Editing by Charles Dick) ((agnieszka.flak@reuters.com; +27 11 775 3154; Reuters Messaging: agnieszka.flak.reuters.com@reuters.net)) (For more Africa cover visit: af.reuters.com -- To comment on this story email: SouthAfrica.Newsroom@reuters.com)

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