Political cake too small for many parties

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

The birth of democratic Namibia as a nation-state on 12 March 1990 was a watershed moment when Namibians were first allowed to exercise their rights in many ways. Among the many democratic rights is the freedom of association, forming of political parties, and casting of votes for the political parties of one’s own choice.

For nearly 30 years, Namibians have regularly cast their votes, with the first election conducted under the United Nations’ auspices in November 1989, whereby representatives from different political parties were elected to the National Assembly.

Provisionally, it was agreed by members of the Constituent Assembly that the majority party would nominate its candidate as the first President of the country. Hence, Dr Sam Nujoma was overwhelmingly agreed to take over the helm of the state and government as the first head of state.

From that period, the election of the President, as per Article 28 (2) (a) is by direct, universal and equal suffrage. Article 46 made provision that 96 members of the NA are to be elected by registered voters by direct and secret ballot to, in terms of Article 28, serve a five year term. Article 46 (b) of the Constitution also empowers the President to appoint eight members to the NA.

After the first government, there have been very conspicuous political developments every five years. We have experienced the demise of some political parties and the emergence of new ones. We have also experienced some political parties getting weaker while some strengthened. It is a historic reality that only the Swapo Party that has always emerged victorious.

Interestingly, we have also seen new developments at regional level, where individuals have shown the political courage to stand as independent candidates during elections thereby challenging the structures of the political parties.

Fundamentally, political parties and elections were supposed to reflect the size of the electorate. Politics is not about political gambling, it is about the political base from where a party garners its support. In my view, there is so much political gambling in this country.

Namibia has a population of just a little bit of over 2 million. Without statistically quantifying that, when we go to cast our votes, not all 2 million are eligible voters. The reason being that that figure includes toddlers, children who are under-age, the fence-sitters who are not willing to vote because of political apathy and possibly many others.

In the final analysis, only a small fraction out of 2 million will cast their votes. Hence, the figure of 2 million is for census-ship and not necessarily for elections.

It is also critical to look into the political landscape of our country. There was a batch of political parties who participated in our first democratic election in 1989 and only seven of them were elected to NA. During the elections in 2014, there were 16 political parties that participated in that election. Ten made it to the NA, while six failed the race.

Come November this year, Namibians will go again to the polls to cast their vote to elect the President and members of NA. It is expected that the political landscape will change again because of the rebranding of the DTA into Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), the change of political leadership of RDP, the emergence of new parties the likes of the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) and possibly the People Organised Working for Economic Reality (POWER), which is on the cards.

Apart from the political parties, it is highly likely that for the first time in the political history of this country, there would be an independent presidential candidate. Of the political developments mentioned above, the independent presidential candidate is worth analysing as a new phenomenon. Of recent, there has exchange of words of expulsion and no legal ground for expulsion. There is also a mixture of feelings from the general public.

The point that is important to understand is there is a clear cutline when exercising democratic rights. While it is a democratic right for any person to stand as an independent candidate, on the contrary you cannot stand as independent candidate while on the back of your opponent. There is no better word other than to call it political hypocrisy and double standards.

Before I conclude, let me leave readers with a few questions as food for thought:

a. The 6th Congress of Swapo Party of 2017 elected its candidate for the 2019 presidential election in the name of Dr Hage Geingob. Should Dr Panduleni Iitula be allowed to stand as an independent candidate while riding on the back of Swapo Party, would that mean Swapo Party is fielding two candidates? The ECN is the only lawful structure in a position to address that political fiasco.   

b. Should Dr Iitula win the presidential elections, he will be vested with power to appoint eight members to the NA. Those appointees will be members of the NA without voting power. Should he appoint them as members of his cabinet, will they not get suffocated politically by 96 elected members of the NA? In our current setting, cabinet members are appointed from the NA. Should he want a cabinet, for example, of 20 members, thus exceeding the eight he appointed to the NA, from where will he draw more members to make up his full cabinet? Of course, it cannot be ruled out there may be some political opportunists from the elected parties that may wish to join his cabinet.

c. Look at the current political parties’ representation and think about the political squabbles in the chamber. Should he win presidential elections, will it be easy for him to govern and ensure that the legislature will make laws without his own elected members dominating the NA?

d. Namibia is fully saturated with more political parties than the electorate. Would it not be better for one to hip-hop between political parties until they get settled somewhere, or what is the compelling force to go solo with regard to independent candidates?

e. While independent candidates at regional and local authorities are a bit different, there are also some political dilemmas that deserve in-depth analysis. There is a call directed, particularly to youngsters, that they must field themselves as independent candidates for regional and local authority elections when it is time. In this regard, the political reality of governing is on the opposite. Take a classic example of the recent Ondangwa elections, where the Swapo Party candidate narrowly escaped the onslaught. Imagine further, should that independent candidate have won, what progress was she going to bring in the constituency while the majority of Council members are from the defeated parties? It is my informed view that she was going to be frustrated, isolated and suffocated by those other parties.

To conclude, there is nothing like proportionate and equal sharing of a cake in politics. The moment a political cake is cut, there will be those who will get abundantly more than others. There will also be those who get nothing at all. Those who get more will euphorically say democracy has worked, as the people have spoken. Those who get less or nothing at all will say the elections were rigged.

Namibia has a small population with many political parties. In that connection, there is no equilibrium between the population and electorate. That means the political cake will not be sufficient for all the political parties once cut. That is made worse by people who are politically naïve and ambitious to the extent that they want to go for solo dancing, while nobody is even watching them.

The notion of independent candidates is what I term ‘solo dancing’. I postulate that they decided to go for solo dancing because of some political frustrations that they can no longer stomach. But what they have not realised is that they have opted for political isolation, which will cause more frustration.

*Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a Former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. These are the author’s own reflections and views.