WINDHOEK, Namibia — Leftist guerrillas, who entered politics after a 23-year war for independence from South Africa, captured a 57% majority in a U.N.-sponsored national election Tuesday, giving them an important but not decisive say in drawing up a new constitution.
Several hundred supporters of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), which had waged one of Africa's longest and bloodiest liberation struggles, danced merrily on Kaiser Street in downtown Windhoek as news of the election results spread.
SWAPO flags waved from trucks laden with cheering blacks, car horns bleated through the hot afternoon and shouts of "Viva SWAPO!" were heard across this vast, sparsely populated territory.
"This is the youngest democracy in the world, and it has shown the world that peace and reconciliation can exist," said Martti Ahtisaari, the U.N. secretary general's special representative for Namibia. Ahtisaari, a Finnish diplomat in charge of the 7,000-member, $500-million U.N. operation overseeing Namibia's transition to independence, then officially declared the elections to have been "free and fair."
South African President Frederik W. de Klerk, whose country has ruled this former German colony for 74 years, said his government "accepts the outcome" of the election and plans to cooperate with an independent Namibia "in a spirit of good neighborliness."
Under a U.S.-brokered peace agreement last year, Pretoria had agreed to allow the 10-year-old U.N. plan for Namibian independence to proceed in exchange for the withdrawal of Cuban troops from neighboring Angola.
Final returns released Tuesday gave SWAPO 41 of the 72 seats in the constituent assembly. That is seven seats short of the two-thirds needed to adopt a new constitution, and the result ensured that SWAPO, which favors a socialist, one-party state, will have to negotiate the country's future with its political rivals.
The pro-capitalist Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), which supports a multi-party state, ran second with 21 seats, or 29%, and the remaining 10 seats were won by five minor parties, each more conservative than SWAPO.
The United Democratic Front will have four seats, followed by the conservative, all-white Action Christian National with three. The Federal Convention of Namibia, National Patriotic Front and the Namibia National Front each won a single seat.
More than 95% of the 701,000 registered voters cast ballots during the five-day election last week. Assembly seats were allocated according to the percentage polled by each of the 10 political parties on the ballot.
Under the U.N. plan for Namibia, the assembly is to meet sometime next week and the 1,500 South African troops remaining in Namibia are to withdraw soon. The U.N. peacekeeping forces are to remain at least until independence, expected sometime early next year.
"In spite of the difficulties, in spite of all the odds placed in our way to victory, the liberation movement has won," said SWAPO spokesman Hidipo Hamutenya. He added that Namibia's white minority "has nothing to fear from a SWAPO government."
As expected, SWAPO's primary base of support was among the black Ovambo people in the most populous northern province, scarred site of the long guerrilla war. DTA, a multiracial party supported by most of the white minority, held a slight edge over SWAPO in the rest of the mineral-rich territory, a region of southwestern Africa more than twice the size of California.
"I must say how happy I am . . . (that) we are going to form the first government," said SWAPO President Sam Nujoma. Asked by the British Broadcasting Corp. whether he would share power with other parties, Nujoma said: "That is the normal democratic exercise."
DTA chairman Dirk Mudge said his party will use its seats in the assembly "to prevent the (SWAPO) majority from acting at random where the interests of the country are at stake."
"But if SWAPO comes with a (constitutional) proposal we can live with, we will support it," Mudge said. "It is our task to build a nation from a seriously divided population. The fact that no party has a two-thirds majority will force the parties to reach a consensus."
He urged the country's whites, who account for only about 8% of the 1.3 million population but own 65% of the land, to "remain in the country and pull your weight. We promise we will continue to protect your interests to the utmost."
In Washington, the State Department wished the Namibian people well and said it looks forward to "working with the government that emerges after independence."