NAMIBIA'S pre-independence ballot has created the basis for a lively multiparty democracy that could increase the momentum for change in South Africa and for peace in the region. Western diplomats and political scientists welcomed the outcome, which they said had created useful checks and balances to prevent any party from wielding unbridled power.
Both Namibia's dependence on the South African economy and pressure from potential Western backers for an open economy will further act as a brake on SWAPO's implementation of its socialist rhetoric.
The Namibian vote broke the mold of landslide wins for African liberation movements and challenged the 25-year-old UN General Assembly declaration of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) as the ``sole, authentic representative'' of the Namibian people.
SWAPO, which launched a guerrilla war 23 years ago to rid the territory of South African rule, won the ballot with a simple majority but failed to gain the two-thirds majority necessary to draft the constitution alone. There was a 96 percent voter turnout.
SWAPO President Sam Nujoma, who had predicted a landslide win for SWAPO, nevertheless welcomed the result.
``It is a victory for the whole Namibian nation,'' Nujoma said. He indicated he would be guided by the wishes of Namibian people on the question of a multiparty system. He committed SWAPO to basic democratic freedoms, but did not rule out a one-party state.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the usually sleepy town of Windhoek Tuesday. Traffic came to a halt as SWAPO supporters took to the streets in blistering heat, chanting and waving the bright red, blue, and green SWAPO flags.
Truck drivers sounded their horns in acknowledgement while white passers-by gazed on. But by nightfall the town was quiet and life returned to normal in Windhoek's bustling black district of Katutura.
The elections took place under 11-year-old UN Security Council Resolution 435 following a US-brokered peace accord between South Africa, Angola and Cuba.
Under the accord, Pretoria, faced with mounting military, economic and diplomatic pressure, agreed to relinquish control of Namibia in exchange for the withdrawal of some 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola.
The election result - certified as ``free and fair'' by the UN - was welcomed by the main political parties in Namibia and prompted a conciliatory tone in the public statements of former adversaries.
``It is our task to build a nation from a seriously divided population,'' said Dirk Mudge, the country's senior white politician who heads the multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA).
``We are not going to the Assembly to align ourselves with any party,'' he said. ``We are looking for a constitution. If SWAPO comes up with a proposal we can live with, we will support it.''
South African President Frederik De Klerk hailed the result as a ``triumph for democracy,'' pledging that his administration would cooperate with an independent Namibia ``in a spirit of good neighborliness.''
The ballot marked a symbolic end to a 30-year dispute about South African rule of the former German colony. Pretoria has occupied Namibia for two decades in defiance of a UN resolution.
UN Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari said, ``Its youngest democracy has given the whole world a shining lesson in democracy. There have been no losers. The whole people of Namibia have been victorious.''
South African Administrator-General Louis Pienaar said after the vote that he had met Mr. Nujoma to discuss how best ``to build bridges across the gaps that have existed in the past.''
SWAPO won 57 percent of the vote, giving it 41 seats in the 72-seat Constituent Assembly.
``SWAPO's vote was not low enough for it to lose face and yet not high enough for it to be able to do what it likes in Namibia,'' said a Western diplomat.
There had been fears that if SWAPO had failed to gain a simple majority its guerrillas might have taken up arms and returned to the bush.
If SWAPO had won a two-thirds majority it mightcould have led to an exodus of a third of the 70,000 whites who now control the Namibian economy.
The power of SWAPO will be checked by the centrist DTA, a multiracial alliance which includes moderate whites. The DTA won 29 percent of the vote giving it 21 seats in the Assembly.
However, the breakdown of the remaining seats will ensure that the DTA, acting in shifting alliances with the smaller parties, will be able to exercise an effective veto on decisions requiring a two-thirds majority. The DTA will strongly resist a one-party state.
Black Namibians voted largely along tribal lines, with SWAPO capturing more than 90 percent of votes in the dominant Ovambo tribe in northern Namibia. In other areas, SWAPO averaged about 35 percent of the vote.
Widely-publicized allegations that SWAPO leaders detained and tortured hundreds of their own members appeared to have undermined its support amongst minority tribes like the Damaras, the Namas and the Hereros.
The system of proportional representation enabled five minority parties to gain representation in the Assembly.
The SWAPO list includes four white delegates and Namibian mineworkers's head Ben Uulenga. The Hereros, the second biggest tribal grouping, appear to have voted solidly for the DTA.
White Namibians were split, with about one half voting for Action Christian National (ACN), a whites-only party wanting to retain political apartheid, and the other half backing the multiracial DTA. The DTA receives substantial financial backing that South Africa and West Germany channel through business interests.
ACN won three seats in the Assembly. Together with the one seat of the Federal Convention of Namibia (FCN) - the party of a conservative, mixed-race group known as the Rhehoboth Basters - they could muster a blocking veto in alliance with the DTA.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) - which has similar policies to SWAPO's but opposes its maltreatment of detainees - won four seats. UDF support is based largely on the Damara tribe.
The Constituent Assembly - to be convened early next week - will draw up the constitution with a target date for independence of April 1 next year.
Political analysts said they did not anticipate protracted wrangling over the constitution, as the positions of SWAPO and the DTA were not unbridgeable.
Points of conflict are likely to include details of the Bill of Rights and some of SWAPO's socialist policies, such as redistribution of land and wealth and the terms for multinationals to continue operating in the country.
Diplomats in Harare, Zimbabwe, said yesterday that Nujoma is expected to meet leaders of six southern African Front Line states - Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique and Angola - in Zambia today.