By Agnieszka Flak
Saturday, November 28, 2009
WINDHOEK (Reuters) - Namibians voted for the second day on Saturday in presidential and parliamentary elections that looked set to keep the ruling party in power and hand President Hifikepunye Pohamba five more years at the helm.
Voting, which got off to a smooth start on Friday, closes at 1900 GMT on Saturday.
There were some delays in opening the polling stations and two boxes containing election material were opened without authorization, but no violence was reported.
The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), which emerged as a breakaway fraction of the ruling SWAPO in 2007, is expected to become the new official opposition and is likely to threaten SWAPO's two-thirds majority.
Having tackled some of SWAPO's traditional strongholds, the RDP may pose the sternest political challenge yet to the ruling party.
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.
"Before, everyone knew that SWAPO was going to win ... but it's time for a change and with the RDP we finally have a strong opposition," Basson said.
"We need to make sure that development policies get implemented and Namibians get the services they need including housing, water and health ... in all parts of the country."
Rich in resources and wedged 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
Although it is a big diamond producer and home to 10 percent of the world's uranium output, the global slowdown has exacerbated poverty and unemployment 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.
SWAPO has faced little opposition since leading the former German colony and South African protectorate to independence, but criticism of corruption could threaten its solid majority.
The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) said that for the first time votes will be counted at the polling stations around the country and results will be posted outside them to ensure transparency.
During elections in 2004 four opposition parties demanded a recount, alleging fraud in the vote that saw the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) take 55 of the 72 parliamentary seats. The recount confirmed SWAPO as the winner.
Fourteen parties are competing for the 72 seats this year and 12 presidential candidates have been listed, though Pohamba is widely expected to be the winner.
Counting will begin immediately after the polls close and initial results will be known a few hours later.
But the ECN said it may take until Wednesday to count all the ballots from the 1.18 million registered voters scattered across the largely desert country bigger than Texas.
(Editing by Shapi Shacinda and Tim Pearce)
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