We live in interesting times where members of our society have awoken from slumber to learn what they should have known from the dawn of independence in 1990 that every Namibian is guaranteed certain rights in the national constitution, including the right to participate in presidential elections as an independent candidate.
It is interesting because some people treat this realisation as a discovery, an invention, and totally new to our political dispensation. Article 28(3) of the Namibian Constitution gives that guarantee. The Electoral Act, Act 5 of 2014 further enriches this constitutional right and gives the procedures to be followed by an aspiring independent candidate.
Therefore, there is no argument on that score. Indeed, every democrat should defend and espouse that constitutional right bequeathed to every Namibian by the constitution. There is also no argument that the Namibian Constitution is superior to constitutions of political parties. However, it is wrong and misleading for the awakening apostles of this constitutional right to confuse all and sundry with the assertion that any member of a political party can stand as an independent presidential candidate, parallel to the presidential candidate of the same party.
Firstly, membership of any political party is voluntary. Citizenship is not acquired on the same basis as one joins a party. Every citizen is free to join a party or associate themselves with any parties. Freedom of association is inherently both an individual and a collective right guaranteed by modern democracies.
Nowhere in any democracy does the right of an individual supersede the right of the collective, particularly because political parties are collective entities. There are limits imposed on individuals when they join political parties or associations. Similarly, there are limits imposed on collectives by national constitutions. Some limitations are matters of conscience and ethics.
An illustrative example would be the Caprivi National Democratic Party (CNDP), which was prohibited from registering before the presidential, National Assembly and regional elections in 2004 because of its name. The ECN argued that Namibia is a unitary state and therefore the right of that collective to register and participate in an election contravened the constitution in that it was seen as divisive and promoting regionalism.
In the same vein, an adherent follower of the Ku Klux Klan mentality wishing to practice his or her beliefs of white supremacy in a democratic party such as Swapo might be limited by the party’s constitution and legal instruments. Examples abound of how many people were expelled from Swapo Party, and even from the former DTA, on the basis of their views being at loggerheads with the principles of the collective.
It would be foolhardy to pontificate and postulate that a member of the Swapo Party does not need to adhere to or follow the requirements, rules and procedures of the Swapo Party to be nominated and elected as presidential candidate. That is inviting anarchy. It is also unfortunate and misleading to argue, as some people wish to do, that nothing in the Swapo Party constitution forbids one from standing as an independent, and that Rules 12 and 53 of the Rules and Procedures for Election of Party Office Bearers and Party Representatives at Legislative and Government Levels contradict each other and therefore open the door for members to contest elections as independent candidates.
For clarity’s sake, Rule 12 says “No position shall be filled by automatic promotion, acclamation or confirmation unless only one candidate is nominated for the post. All positions shall be contested through elections by secret ballot, unless provided for in the constitution. All positions shall therefore be elective”.
The above refers to the conduct of elections in Swapo, including election of the president at congress. Rule 12 sets the process to be followed, whereas Rule 53 provides for what happens after the presidential elections at congress. Rule 53 states “Party candidate to the Presidency of the Republic – the President of the Party shall automatically be the Party candidate to the presidency of the Republic….” There is no contradiction between the two Rules. Inventing a contradiction would be mischievous.
Furthermore, the five core values of the Swapo Party guide the conduct of the membership of the Party. Two such core values are: (a) Elected leadership and (b) Collective responsibility. These simply mean that all members of the party, from section to congress, shall be subjected to democratic elections to occupy positions they aspire to hold. No entitlement or appointment. Collective responsibility and accountability basically compels every member of the party to act in the interest of the collective and to abide by the decision of the collective.
Article lV (A) (1) of the Swapo Party constitution states that “membership of Swapo Party shall be open to every Namibian citizen who accepts the aims and objectives of Swapo Party…” One does not join with the intention to change the status quo but rather to strengthen what is there. In the same constitution, the Swapo Party sets out the rights and obligations of its members. Among these is Article lV (C) (2) (e) which states that a member of the party has the obligation “to observe and comply with decisions, resolutions and directives of the majority, even though he or she might have voted against them or held a diverging opinion during the discussion”. It is therefore a requirement for party members to respect Rule 53 once the party president is elected at congress, whether or not one supported him or her. The decision of the collective must prevail.
Article lV (C) (2) (f) enjoins members of the party “to contribute to the strengthening of the organic unity of the Party and the political consciousness of its rank and file”. Therefore, activities of members should be seen within the context of whether or not they are contributing to the strengthening of the organic unity of the Party, or are sowing division.
The Swapo Party, born and steeled in the crucible of a popular and heroic struggle for national independence, is conscious that many of its supporters and sympathisers might easily be misled before they become members. It is for that reason that the Party conceptualised the Code of Conduct to ensure that those willing to become members are not only conversant with the principles of the Party, but also understand the consequences for flouting such principles, rules, procedures and the constitution.
The Party Code of Conduct says in paragraph 16.4 that a member is guilty of misconduct if he or she “behaves in such a way as to provoke or cause division or a break-down of Party unity or participates in organised faction activity that goes beyond the recognised norms of free debate inside the Party”.
Paragraph 16.15 of the same Code says a member is guilty of misconduct if he or she “conducts himself or herself in a disgraceful, improper or unbecoming manner causing embarrassment to the Party”. These provisions of the Code of Conduct are self-explanatory.
The challenge has been, however, that the Party has in the past and present, turned a blind eye to the flouting of these provisions and many others. This has naturally provided some members the courage to equally flout the principles, rules, procedures and constitution of the Party. In 2014, a Swapo Party member stood as an independent candidate in the Regional Council elections in Otjombinde, challenging an internally elected Swapo Party candidate. The independent candidate won the elections, and is still serving his term as an independent with no political consequences from the Party. The precedence has given birth to the idea of a Swapo party member standing as an independent presidential candidate. It might fuel many more other ideas.
In the process the concept of independent candidate is misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied. An independent candidate is simply an individual politician who is not affiliated to any political party; they are non-partisan in nature. To be independent, in the real sense, means that an individual must first disaffiliate from any political party. The only association that an independent candidate can have with a political party is either by being a former member of that party, or having some views that align with a party but chooses to go it alone.
It is ludicrous and laughable to be an independent within a collective. This is simple logic. Strangely we live in a country where critical thinking is a disease avoided by many. It is painful for many of our people to simply think critically.
* Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.
New Era Reporter
2019-03-13 09:53:05 2 months ago