• August 10th, 2020

The people as sovereign subjects of the Republic and the importance of their vote

In Namibia, the people are sovereign subjects of the Republic; and to that extent, they possess supreme or ultimate power.  Chapter 1 Article 1 (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia reads as follows: “…all power shall vest in the people of Namibia who shall exercise their sovereignty through the democratic institutions of the State.”  This is a loaded statement and it constitutes the premise or analytical framework of this opinion piece. 

During the years of our struggle for independence, we used to shout from public platforms that “power belongs to the people.”  In 1989, the people of Namibia exercised their democratic right for the first time ever, when they elected Members of the Constituent Assembly that drew up the Constitution. After the Constitution was adopted, the Constituent Assembly transformed itself into Namibia’s first democratically-elected Parliament. 

The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia has been hailed internationally as one of the best in the world. Chapter 3 of the Constitution is of particular interest to scholars because that is the chapter that covers Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The importance of Chapter 3 can only be fully appreciated if it is read in conjunction with Chapter 19 Article 131 that deals with the amendments to the Constitution. That Article reads as follows: “no repeal or amendment of any of the provisions of Chapter 3 hereof, in so far as such repeal or amendment diminishes or distracts from the fundamental rights and freedoms contained and defined in that Chapter shall be permissible under this Constitution, and no such purported repeal or amendment shall be valid or have any force or effect.” In simple terms, this means that no amendments should be effected on Chapter 3 if such amendments would lead to the “minimisation” of fundamental rights and freedoms. 

What does all this have to do with voting? Chapter 3 Article 17 (2) states that “Every citizen who has reached the age of eighteen (18) years shall have the right to vote and who has reached the age of twenty-one (21) years, to be voted to public office, unless otherwise provided herein.”  Therefore, voting is not just “a favour” that the citizens do for politicians (as some of the people may think). It is a fundamental human right that is enshrined in our supreme law – the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia. Secondly, in terms of Article 131 under Chapter 19 that I quoted above, it is a right that cannot be “taken away.”

What does voting imply? Democratic representation started in the ancient Greek City-States where the citizens needed to elect their representatives to elaborate on important issues on behalf of all of them. It was impossible for all the citizens to come together to agree on important issues (that would be chaotic).

That is why some argue that “democracy is a government of the people, by the people.” Against this backdrop, Chapter 1 Article 1 (2) of the Constitution that I quoted above is worth elaborating on to make a case for the need to vote.  That Article states that “…all power shall vest in the people of Namibia who shall exercise their sovereignty through the democratic institutions of the State.” In the simplest of terms, that means that during elections, the people - temporarily - “surrender” or “delegate” their “power” to the elected leaders on the basis of “a borrowed mandate.” During election campaigns, the party in power would tell the citizens, “…this is how we have used the mandate you have entrusted unto us for the last five years, so give us another five years.” On the other hand, the opposition parties would tell the citizens “…your mandate was not put to good use, so please give that mandate to us.” This is basically what political campaigns and voting are all about. However, the bottom line is “all power belongs to the citizens’’ and when they vote, they delegate that power to the elected officials. This is of course a normative or theoretical position informed by constitutional provisions and not an empirically-based position that is informed by scientific research. It is beyond the scope of this opinion piece to venture into empirical arguments; I would leave the gauging of the quality of our democracy to academics.

The people’s sacred sovereignty finds concrete expression in the secrecy of the ballot.  As a collective, the people are sovereign, but that sovereignty is exercised privately in a ballot booth by citizens as single individuals. In a democratic dispensation like ours, the secrecy of the ballot is a concrete expression of an absolute right because no one can limit that right, except the individual himself/herself. That “self-imposed limitation” can only happen if one chooses not to vote.

*Gerson Uaripi Tjihenuna is the Director in the Office of the Speaker of Parliament and an ECN Commissioner, however, the views expressed here are his own and not those of the two institutions.

Staff Reporter
2019-10-11 08:03:17 | 9 months ago

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