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Political Parties and Democracy in Namibia

The Historical and Social Context (Part 2) By B.F.Bankie Qualifying Democracy Apartheid settler colonialism had left the country at two extremes, with a white male dominated minority elite living in first world conditions and the majority African population living in poverty. The states which emerged were not sovereign, but neo- colonial. State authority did not include the commanding heights of the economy, which remains in the hands of minority whites and transnational overseas capital, with governance residing with a small black political power elite, in alliance with white capital. This arrangement will remain in place for the foreseeable future, but it fails to meet the expectations, which engendered the struggle for freedom. Even after 'independence' was proclaimed in Namibia, one of the groups supposedly fighting for Angolan freedom, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) within Angola, continued to unsettle the peace in Namibia. UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi, had been aligned to racist South Africa and maintained a presence in Southern Angola, from where it crossed into Namibia after independence to create mayhem. It also traded in contraband and diamonds, all of which disturbed the population of Northern Namibia, especially Kavango and Caprivi. UNITA's interference in Northern Namibia obliged those travelling from Rundu in the Kavango Region to Katima Mulilo in Caprivi Region in the North-East of the country, to travel under convoy. In a sense Caprivi was being isolated from the rest of the country, so that when a short-lived Caprivi armed rebellion erupted in Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Region in 1999, with connections with UNITA, nobody was surprised. It was only when Savimbi was killed some ten years after Namibia's independence, that Namibia enjoyed full peace. Democracy is not a given and must be fought for and jealously safeguarded. Some states such as France went through a republican revolution to reach the stage of pluralistic democracy, after a long period of experimentation and refinement. Namibia arrived at Western liberal democracy via a negotiated settlement, after an armed struggle and the deliberations of a Constituent Assembly. Thereafter the ruling SWAPO Party claimed that certain clauses of the Constitution were not of its making and were rather foisted on the people of Namibia during the period leading to independence. The impact of the events of the 9th November 2001 in New York, in the United States of America (USA), when two aircraft were crashed into the Twin Tours Buildings, also had resonance in Canada and parts of Europe. Civil liberties came under attack. Rights to privacy were trampled upon. All of which was combined by an increase in xenophobia in the USA, whipped up by politicians looking for attention. It reached the international media that the United States of America was mistreating prisoners of war at its Guantanamo military prison in Cuba. Democracy is a fragile entity and any state from one moment to another can pass from democracy to autocracy, depending on social dynamics. The Constitution The Constitution of Namibia was decided by the Constituent Assembly elected during the United Nations supervised elections of November 1989. The fact that Namibia was in a sense, a child of the international community/United Nations and that it received self-government late, as compared with other African countries, meant that it should have been better placed to learn from the experiences of other countries, in its Constitution drafting process. In 1982 the Western Contact Group of nations, who were involved in the process towards Namibia's self-government, proposed a number of Constitutional Principles as Appendages to UN Security Council Resolution 435, which embodied the peace plan for Namibia's Constitution. SWAPO accepted these Constitutional Principles as a basis for the Namibian Constitution The Constitution which emerged from the Assembly was hailed internationally as an excellent representative of liberal democracy, able to hold its own under scrutiny as compared to any other Constitution in the world, but it had already been compromised by the 1982 Constitutional Principles. The Constitution enshrined the cardinal principles of democracy, that of the separation of powers, dividing government into three components - the Executive (law implementing), the Legislative (law making), and the Judiciary (law interpretation and enforcement). In Namibia executive power is vested in the President and the Cabinet, who institute laws and ensure that they are implemented. Legislative power resides with Parliament (National Assembly - enacting and National Council - reviewing). The authority of the Judiciary lies in the courts of Namibia, being the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Lower Courts, which are independent. The Constitution of Namibia is an enlightened document in the Western frame of democracy. It contains all the provisions expected in a constitution of a western democracy, incorporating issues such as gender equality, but the fact that the state is denied control of the land, flaws the document fatally. The Constitution does not provide for gay rights. The Constitution includes a chapter on fundamental human rights and freedoms, which cannot be amended or repealed in a way that would diminish any of the enshrined rights. These rights include freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion. This chapter also ensures the right to own property, while giving the government the right to expropriate property if just compensation is paid on the basis of willing seller - willing buyer.S ince the enactment of the Constitution some trade unionists and SWAPO politicians have called for the removal of some of the 'rights and freedoms' of the 1982 principles, arguing that they were imposed. Political Parties The South West Africa National Union (SWANU) SWANU was formed on 27th September 1959 and received the backing of the Herero's Chief Council (HCC) through Chief Hosea Kutako. Described as the party of Herero intellectuals, within months the Chiefs turned against the party, it being too radical. SWANU was never able to build a mass appeal, whilst SWAPO found favour with the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations (UN). In 1983 part of SWANU chose to join the South African inspired Multi-Party Conference (MPC). Those who chose to remain outside the MPC collected under the banner of the Namibia National Front (NNF), which contested the 1989 elections and won one seat in the Constituent Assembly and ultimately one position of Deputy Minister in the SWAPO Cabinet (Hopwood 2006). SWANU opposed apartheid and its political orientation was socialist. The party continues, however it has little electoral impact. It has failed to win a seat in Parliament since 1990. The South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO) The roots of this political formation go back to 2nd August 1957 and the formation of the Owamboland Peoples Congress (OPC), which was renamed the Owamboland Peoples Organization (OPO) in 1959. OPO reconstituted itself as SWAPO on 19th April 1960 taking on a national orientation. The SWAPO program of 1961 sought a democratic government, unifying all the people in order to reconstruct the country, in order to realize African freedom. The program supported an electoral system based on universal suffrage. It outlawed discrimination based on tribe, nationality or colour. There was to be freedom of speech, assembly and religion. The belief in one common nationality for all Africans was stated. SWAPO declared for public and private ownership of industry, giving priority to industries owned by Africans. On land ownership SWAPO's original program declared that, 'All existing land with foreign title deed and ownership shall be placed under the government' . In general the program was socialist oriented. The organization functioned on a vanguard basis. By the time SWAPO produced its first election manifesto in July 1989 for the Constituent Assembly elections, the ideological direction of the party had shifted to the centre. The manifesto was notably silent on how the party would implement its program, rather there were signs of a dependence on investment for development. In 1964 the Caprivi National Union (CANU) joined SWAPO. Its splittist tendencies re-emerged when in 1999 some former CANU leaders participated in the armed attempt to secede Caprivi from the nation. A National Congress was held in Walvis Bay in 1976 which re-affirmed the internal wing (i.e. the SWAPO party within the country) in subordinate relationship to the exiled leadership. Within Namibia during the years of liberation struggle, organized labour in the form of the Trade Union movement was important as was the student movement. During that period the use of confinement and other unconventional disciplinary means, some violent, were prevalent in Angola as SWAPO operated in a rigid top-down authoritative structure, mitigated by occasional Congresses. It is important to keep in mind that this was the mode of regulation within the liberation movement during its years of exile. This style of leadership came from necessity, not choice, as time and time again South Africa sought to penetrate the organization with saboteurs and informers, so that a 'spy paranoia' was active by way of vigilance, to ensure the organization was not the victim of internal collapse as happened in some other Southern African freedom movements. Given this background the smooth transition of SWAPO Party to democratic politics in 1989-90 was nothing short of miraculous. Originally headquartered in Tanzania, SWAPO moved its headquarters to Lusaka in 1968. Throughout the 1970's thousands of Namibians voted with their feet, leaving the country to join SWAPO in exile. In 1975 the South African Administration convened its Turnhalle Constitutional Conference in Windhoek. SWAPO was not invited to join the Alliance, which adopted its constitution. Most political tendencies black and white were co-opted into the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance. In 1976 the UN General Assembly recognized SWAPO as the 'sole and authentic' representative of the Namibian people. However, SWAPO's rule of Namibia under its founding President Sam Nujoma, one of its founders along with Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, was marked by a distinct heavy handedness, at one stage removed from the democratic process. For instance a paramilitary formation, the Special Field Force, resorting under the Namibian Police (NAMPOL) was formed after independence with a large component of demobilized former SWAPO combatants. These would be seen walking about the nation's capital Windhoek, in pairs armed with AK-47 sub-machine guns or pistols. Similarly armed soldiers were on view in Windhoek, serving as a reminder of the deterrence capacity of the state in the eventuality of a public disturbance. Not that the occasion ever arose for an armed intervention, except in 1999 in Caprivi, but the militarisation of civilian life in this way was part of the style of the years of the Nujoma Presidency. This might be characterized as 'strong government'. Not 'strong armed government', as there was no proof of government interference in the democratic process, despite opposition cries of 'foul' in the electoral process, which were pursued unsuccessfully in the courts, with increasing frequency after the decisive 'free and fair' 1989 elections faded in public memory. Was it that without UN involvement the Namibianisation of the electoral process was increasingly compromised, or in the alternative, was Namibian politics increasingly contested and Namibians in general more aware of their political rights? The truth lay in a combination of these two factors, as Namibian democracy matured. The National Democratic Organization (NUDO) The Hereros Chief Council (HCC) formed NUDO on 25th September 1964 after the traditional leaders fell out with SWANU due to its radical agenda. Founding members of NUDO were Clemens Kapuuo and Mburumba Kerina. Kapuuo became Paramount Chief of the Herero and led NUDO until his assassination in March 1978, after which Chief Kuaima Riruako became leader of NUDO and Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero. In 1977 NUDO became a member of the South African inspired Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) and Kapuuo was named as the President of the DTA. The alliance became a unified party. However, in late 2003 NUDO split with the DTA, claiming its independence from the Alliance. This split was contested within the Alliance. The Directorate of Elections recognized NUDO's right to exist as an independent party. NUDO seeks the formation of a government of national unity, assuming a closer working relationship with SWAPO. The Republican Party (RP) The Republican Party was formed in October 1977, when a breakaway group in the country split with the South African Nationalist Party over its insistence on keeping apartheid laws in place in Namibia. The RP joined the DTA in November 1977 and remained in the Alliance till 2003, when it registered as an independent party with the Directorate of Elections. The RP is perceived as an ethnic party. Many of the founding members of the RP refused to remain in it when it was relaunched in 2003. The political platform of the RP is essentially the same as the DTA's. The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) The DTA grew out of the Turnhalle Constitutional Conference, which met from September 1975 to October 1977, convened by South Africa to create an internal settlement that would neutralize SWAPO's popular appeal. The DTA was formed by disaffected participants in the Turnhalle Process and was a coalition of ethnic parties. Since independence the DTA struggled to shake off its image as a stooge of the apartheid regime. In the view of those who fought for the liberation of Namibia, the DTA was a collection of South African controlled puppets. After self-government the party's support base diminished, consequently some parties which had joined the Alliance left. The DTA Manifesto of 1989 embraced the democratic principles of a sovereign state, such as equality for all and the rejection of apartheid. It favoured a mixed economy, the respect for private property and communal land ownership. In 2000 the DTA formed an alliance with the United Democratic Front of Namibia (UDF). In 2003, NUDO and the RP broke away from the DTA umbrella. Whereas on independence the DTA based on its number of votes, carried the title 'Official Opposition', in 2004 it lost this to the Congress of Democrats (CoD). United Democratic Front of Namibia (UDF) The Damara Council (DC) was formed in 1971 to prepare for the creation of the Damara Homeland. It was composed of Chiefs and public figures. In 1980 it transformed itself into a political party, to participate in elections in Damaraland. Justus Garoeb was named Chief of the Damara in 1987 and UDF Founding President in 1989. The UDF Alliance was constituted by an amalgam of different political tendencies, including Caprivian politicians. Reconstituted into a United Party in 1993, its core support base remains the Damara community. In 2000 the UDF entered a parliamentary coalition with the DTA, to become part of the 'Official Opposition'. This pact ended in 2005. The electoral platform of the UDF favours a mixed economy, guaranteed rights to private ownership of property, the recognition of Chiefs and the protection of cultural and language rights. The UDF is an ethnic party. Monitor Action Group (MAG) MAG was formed in 1991, out of the ashes of the National Party of Namibia. It has been a vehicle for the ideas of its Chairperson Kosie Pretorius, who was its lone representative in Parliament. Pretorius promoted Christian values. In 2005 Janie Viljoen replaced Pretorius in the National Assembly. The Congress of Democrats (CoD) The CoD was formed on 23rd March 1999 after its leader, Ben Ulenga, left SWAPO due to his unhappiness with the plans of President Nujoma to run for a third term as President of Namibia, Namibia's participation in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the government's treatment of former combatants. Ulenga was joined by other prominent members of society. SWAPO saw the CoD as its first major electoral challenge. In 2004 based on election results, the CoD won enough seats to be declared the 'Official Opposition'. The CoD pursues greater efficiency in government and the parastatals, the devolution of power to the regions and a greater role for traditional and religious leaders. Other political parties in Namibia, which are not represented in Parliament, that is the National Assembly and the National Council, are the Namibia Democratic Movement for Change (NDMC), the Federal Connection of Namibia (FCN), The Khoisan Social Political Movement (KSPM) and the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP). Parliament (National Assembly and National Council) Whereas Cabinet Ministers sit in the National Assembly, the highest public office holders able to sit in the National Council are Deputy Ministers. The National Council has no law-making functions. Its powers of review are limited and they can be overruled by the National Assembly. Like the National Assembly, the National Council's membership reflects the dominance of the ruling party - SWAPO. If nothing else, the National Council provides checks and balances to the work of the National Assembly. A Council of Traditional Leaders empowered by the Constitution was created by Act of Parliament in 1997, to advise the President on the control and utilization of communal land and any matter the President might refer to it. Power resides with the Executive President since there was the view that from self-government the country needed strong, assertive leadership. The Constitution bestows executive powers in the President. He has the final say in many appointments such as Judges. He does not sit in Parliament, but once a year must go there to answer questions. There is also a Prime Minister who leads government business in the National Assembly. The Judiciary along with the media and parts of civil society provide further checks and balances. Civil society is able to propose new laws by lobbying the Executive. Political parties receive subventions from the state, dependent on the number of votes they receive at elections. This ensures parties are not dependent on funding and can act independently. If parties receive foreign funding, this must be disclosed. Members of Parliament are to abide by a code of conduct, which includes the disclosure of assets. The code was established by the Act of Parliament. Thereafter it took seven years for the Asset Register to be published of the members of the National Assembly. That of the members of the National Council remains outstanding. The Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development committed member states in the region to 30 per cent women's representation in political and decision-making structures in the region by 2005. Affirmative action decisions require all parties to meet targets for gender representation. By 2005 the representation of women in the National Assembly was 27 per cent. Based on current levels of representation women would achieve the objective in top decision-making positions by 2050. Elections The proportional representation system for elections was used in the 1989 UN sponsored elections for the Constituent Assembly. This system benefits the smallest parties. Small parties with only a few thousand votes can gain representation. This has resulted in ethnic parties obtaining representation in the National Assembly/Council. In Namibia the party list system is used with the whol
New Era Reporter
2007-01-17 00:00:00 12 years ago

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