The ruling Swapo has finally formalised the closing up of the independent candidacy loophole following a virtual extraordinary congress at the weekend. The amendments to the constitution bar any of its members from standing as independent candidates or a representative of an association for presidential, regional council, local authority or any other election.
Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said although the party has succeeded in closing the loophole, the issue does not necessarily solve the current intra-party division.
“This is a reactive move rather than a natural proactive process within the party’s internal democratic machineries, if they ever existed. The rise of the independent candidate phenomenon in Swapo is not due to lack of a constitutional remedy but rather the party’s broken processes and systems, which has resulted into disunity,” Kamwanyah told New Era yesterday. The issue of independent candidates has been a bone of contention over the past months after a Swapo member - Dr Panduleni Itula - challenged President Hage Geingob for the presidency last year.
Itula ended second in last year’s presidential vote with nearly 30% of the total vote, compared to Geingob’s 56.3%. Also, Otjombinde constituency councillor Katjanaa Kaurivi and Walvis Bay Urban constituency councillor Knowledge Ipinge contested in the elections as independents and won against candidates fielded by the ruling party while holding onto the Swapo party membership.
Swapo’s executive director Austin Samupwa said there will be an automatic loss of membership once a party member is registered or seeks or attempts to register as an independent candidate or an association or as a representative of an association for any election for which such a member is not elected or endorsed by the relevant structure of the party.
Samupwa said the amendment comes into effect this week Friday. Namibia University of Science and Technology senior lecturer Admire Mare said some people will view the change of constitution as shutting the door for freedom of assembly but certainly, Swapo is viewing it as an attempt to split votes in the upcoming elections.
“It is a way of shutting the public performance of internal party contradictions,” he said. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) executive director Graham Hopwood said in general, he thinks this is an attempt to avoid any future Dr Itula type of situation whereby some voters might be confused as which candidate really represents Swapo. “It does seem logical that members of a particular party would be expected not to stand against that party on another ticket - and if they do they are bound to be repercussions which might result in expulsion,” he said.
“The only legal issue might be: Article 18 of the Namibian constitution. The legal issue would be whether immediate expulsion is a fair process if there is no hearing at which an accused can give their side of the story. Perhaps a lawyer should comment in more detail on that.” – firstname.lastname@example.org