- The controversy surrounding the voters’ register and a pending court case in which opposition parties dispute the outcome of the November 2009 presidential and national assembly election results in Namibia, is bad news for democracy in that country, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and for the African continent in general.
In 2004, the opposition parties, led by the Congress of Democrats (CoD), approached the High Court to have the votes recounted. Unfortunately, the recount produced the same outcome – due to lack of human resource capacity.
Similarly, the 2009 elections are disputed by opposition parties, led by the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP). These parties launched a second court case arguing that the elections be nullified, its results be set aside and/or order for a recount.
The biggest question at the moment is whether the elections were held under free and fair conditions, or whether they were a reflection of the will of the people. No matter how you look at this problem, the following are some of the reasons to believe that the elections were not free and fair - the voters’ register is not accurate because there’s no proof that it was updated; the voters’ register contains about 90 000 Namibians who are dead; and over 50 000 voters have cast their votes even though their names are not appearing on the voter’s register.
In addition, there are activists and opposition parties who argue that the voter registration process was flawed and might have created an opportunity for certain voters to vote twice. The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) is empowered by the Electoral Act of 1992 to register voters using their identity cards and/or a sworn statement. Namibians who vote using sworn statements are issued with voter cards, which can be produced when voting. However, a person could register more than once at different locations since the voter’s roll is not computerised and centralised. This is one of the reasons why people’s names are duplicated on the voters’ roll.
Despite warnings from the opposition parties and CSOs, including the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), that the voters’ register was flawed, the ECN went ahead to have it gazetted. In fact, the NSHR observer status was withdrawn and later lifted when the organisation went to court, arguing that the ban was illegal because there was never a hearing before the decision was made, as required by the law.
Lack of punitive measures on the code of conduct for political parties also makes it impossible for politicians to play by the rules. The current code of conduct is nothing but a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ because it is not part of the Electoral Act. This is one of the reasons why placards and political party colours were visible in some of the polling stations during the elections. And no action has ever been taken against politicians or members of political parties who violate the code of conduct. It will be in the interest of Namibia and Africa in general for the electoral code of conduct to be legalised.
What role did SADC, African Union, European Union (EU) and other observers played during the elections? What made all these observers to conclude that the elections were free and fair? Clearly they did not do their homework properly. They must be embarrassed wherever they are for declaring the elections free and fair even when they knew that certain problems existed prior the polls. Are they impartial when declaring whether the elections were free and fair? Are some of these observers, the EU in particular, pursuing certain agendas against certain African countries?
We stand tall in arguing that the November 2009 elections were not free and fair and that they never reflected the will of the people of Namibia. There’s no smoke without fire. An interesting example is the Okatyali constituency in the Oshana region where 2 000 votes were casted in an area with a population of 2 000 people. This is a 100 percent voter turnout, which means even the underage children voted.
It is therefore premature for SWAPO Party’s secretary-general, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, to urge political party officials to prepare themselves to take up their parliamentary duties while there is a pending court case. Maybe some of us are interested in knowing how she plans to clean up the mess, including putting systems in place to enable the country to hold free and fair elections in future. ECN and SWAPO Party have all confirmed that ‘administrative/human errors’ were committed, so, there were problems.
The Department of Home Affairs & Immigration also does not have a plan in place to help the ECN to update the voter’s roll.
The ECN initially announced that 1.3 million people registered to vote. The announcement soon became a laughing matter when the ECN revised the number to 1.1 million and then to 900 000. Activists and political analysts argue that the number of voters exceeded the number of those who appear in the voters’ roll.
Some of the lessons we learned are that the ECN should be independent in a true sense, the voter’s register should be computerised and centralised and that the National Planning Commission should work together with the ECN, using the updated population register. Why is the ECN only allowed to function when the country prepares for elections? Does the ruling SWAPO Party take democracy serious or not?
Only free and fair conditions make free and fair elections possible; only free and fair elections can produce credible results; only credible and binding elections can produce a legitimate government; and only a legitimate government can guarantee conditions of peace and stability.
- Steven Mvula is public relations officer at the National Society for Human Rights and Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT.
- 'A Passion to Liberate' is a literary biography of one of South Africa’s most eminent men of letters, Justin Alexander La Guma, who is better known as Alex La Guma and is one of the twentieth century’s most prolific, eloquent, and courageous writers. Although Fritz Pointer gives some attention to La Guma’s years as a journalist, he mainly focuses on La Guma’s novelette, A Walk in the Night, and his novels, And a Threefold Cord, The Stone Country, In the Fog of the Season’s End, and Time of a Butcherbird.
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- Impunity for past electoral violence is a major barrier to a free and fair election in Uganda in 2011, according to a summary of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.
The report points out that the perpetrators from all sides of the political spectrum have very rarely faced justice for crimes committed in past elections.
It further states that those responsible for earlier offences, as well as those contemplating crimes, will feel unconstrained in future elections barring new measures and increased enforcement.
To read the article titled, “Rights group indicts government for election violence and impunity,” click here.Source:All Africa
- The report under the headline: ‘Civil Society skeptical about elections ...’ under the ownership of the Joint Observer Mission (JOM) of the Namibia Non-Governmental Organisation Forum Trust (NANGOF) and the SADC Council of NGOs (SADC-CNGO), is misleading, according to Dr Rukee Tjingaete, who comments on his personal capacity.
Tjingaete argues that that the intention behind this report could be misleading judging from its timing of release and the harsh judgement that it has passed on the Electoral Commission of Namibia.
The report concludes that the pre-election phase has fallen short of meeting the requirements, benchmarks and standards for the holding of free and fair elections, the election phase was only acceptable up to the counting of ballots, when it started to derail, and that the post-election phase as ‘marked by a state of uncertainty’.
The report is described by its authors as "unique in that unlike those of other observer missions that concentrated primarily on the voting days, it focussed on the pre-election, election and post election phases”.
To read the article titled, “NANGOF report on elections is misleading,” click here.Source:All Africa
- The ‘Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy’ is a comprehensive account of the first two decades of inclusive and competitive elections in the region. Covering the period from 1989 to 2009, the book focuses on the 14 Southern African Development Community member states. Its editors hope to offer a useful resource to scholars and politics students, elections practitioners and election observers with an interest in democracy and elections in Southern Africa.
The last decade of the previous millennium and the first decade of the new millennium have been characterised by an unprecedented number of competitive multiparty elections in the Southern African region and in the rest of the African continent. This period shows that elections took root and increasingly occurred at regular intervals. In most instances electoral management increased in quality. However, behind the veil of frequency lies a reality of uneven political quality of elections. The study identifies some of the main regional trends and highlights progression and regression in the quality of elections held in the region.
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- Nigeria’s Children and Youth Democratic Electoral Model (CYDEM) says it has placed the necessary machinery on ground to educate children and youths on the basic tenets of democracy and the electoral process.
The CYDEM project initiator, Temitola Odetola, says that the programme is geared towards changing the negative stereotype that democracy and good governance is synonymous to bribery, corruption, rigging, injustice and violence.
Odetola further says hat the programme will soon train some youths in a workshop, adding that four trainees will be selected from each state of the federation to empower them on leadership and self employment skills.
To read the article titled, “NGO to educate children on electoral process,” click here.Source:<br /> All Africa
- Botswana eligible voters went to the polls on 16 October 2009 to exercise their democratic right to vote in the country’s 10th election since its independence in 1966.
According to Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Botswana, a total of 732 617 resident Batswana and 1 641 non-resident Batswana registered to vote in the 2009 elections. Of the total registered voters, 403 056 were female, 320 561 were male and 320 561 were youth.
The election provided an opportunity for citizens to vote for candidates belonging to seven political parties and 15 independent candidates, affectionately known as “mokoko”. Candidates were contesting the country’s 57 constituencies. Media reports had long tipped the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to win; the main race was between the BDP, the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
The Botswana elections have been described as free and fair by both citizens and the election observers. However, other than the BDP, securing funding to launch a successful election campaign was a difficulty faced by political parties.
Even though it was widely expected that President Ian Khama, the son of the country's revered first President Sir Seretse Khama, would retain his position, lack of state funding for political parties is not good news to Botswana’s democracy. It limits other political parties’ ability to take their election messages nationally. Lack of state funding to political parties prevented them from interacting with their supporters. Technically, it gives the ruling party an unfair advantage over other parties during the campaigns.
Some politicians had to fund their own elections campaigns from their private accounts due to lack of state funding to registered political parties contesting the elections. There are risks associated with this practice; politicians might use people’s votes as a ticket to access public office, abuse state resources and corrupt the state. Secondly, lack of state funding makes it impossible for political parties to campaign nationally thus giving the ruling party an advantage over other parties. This has the potential to create perceptions that citizens should vote only for the ruling party. This will damage the credibility of the country’s democracy in the long term.
I support the call made by the Africa Union (AU) that Botswana should consider state funding of political parties to strengthen its democracy and level the playing field. The head of the AU mission, Brigalia Bam, who is also the chairperson of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), maintains that the funding should be done "based on fair and equitable formula that aim to strengthen the participation of political parties in the democratisation process of the country".
State funding can go a long way in discouraging politicians from going to any public office with the intention to loot state funds to pay for the debts incurred during their elections campaigns. It can also result in the mushrooming of a generation of political parties and independent candidates who vie for votes with the view to benefit financially from the state.
The SADC Council of Non Governmental Organisations (SADC-CNGO) said that from the meetings it held with various stakeholders, “It noted the ongoing debate on the need for political party funding to create equal opportunities for effective participation in elections by all political parties”. Uganda, Burundi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi are some of the African countries that are already providing funding to political parties.
I argue that the tendency of African ruling parties to use state resources for election campaigns is fast becoming a culture in African politics. The abuse of state resources helps the ruling parties to further position themselves for more power and create an impression that they are the only legitimate choice for the voters.
During the build up to the elections in Botswana, the BNF complained that the BDP was abusing the state media during the campaign period. BNF spokesperson, Mohwasa Moeti, said this abuse included space allocated to BDP in the state media. On a positive note, Mohwasa points out that despite their grievances, the people have spoken.
As for Khama, the 47 seats which the DBP won should translate into enabling the diamond-rich country to create jobs, fight inequality, and alleviate the country’s poor out of extreme poverty. Khama should join South Africa, SADC, AU and other players to help the neighbouring Zimbabwe to find long-lasting solutions to its economic and political problems - rather than just condemning President Robert Mugabe without concrete solutions.
During the election campaigns, the media quoted him as saying that “if Zimbabwe’s unity government collapse for genuine reasons, his government will not recognise a Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front-only government or one headed by Mugabe because “he did not win the presidential election last year”.
Winnie Nonofo Motseokae works at the African Human Rights Consortium (http://www.africanhumanrightsconsortium.org/contact.html) in Botswana. She writes in her personal capacity.
- Human rights group, Ditshwanelo, has called on Batswana to exercise their democratic right to vote on 16 October 2009.
Ditshwanelo wants Batswana to recognise that by casting their ballot they are exercising a human right enshrined in the country’s law and exercising the right to choose representatives of their choice.
The organisation further urges Batswana to vote consciously. It says voting based on emotional factors is not responsible voting.
“Responsible voting is aimed at the development of the country and a deepening of the country’s democratic gains and a commitment to working for a better society for future generations,” maintains Ditshwanelo.
To read the article titled, “Rights group encourages responsible voting,” click here.Source:All Africa
- With democracy being relatively new in South Africa, local government has had to undergo much institutional reform between 1994 and 2000. A key part of this overhaul has been the requirement for democratic processes in municipal decision-making methods between elections.
Recently, government has been encouraging municipalities to have public participation units. Local government in South Africa is now required to implement forms of public participation, particularly around development planning and budgeting.
The Local Government Municipal Systems Act of 2000 requires that municipalities “develop a culture of municipal governance that complements formal representative government with a system of participatory governance,” (Carrim, 2001: 14).
Indeed, there is much to suggest that the recent emphasis on public participation in local government has a lot to do with the failure of local politicians to govern as prescribed under our laws. Hence, while institutions of participatory governance were established in 2000, the effort to institutionalise them came some five years later following a spate of country-wide protests.
In the year preceding the 2006 local government elections, the Minister of Safety and Security reported some 5 085 protests against inept and corrupt local government nationwide (Robert, 2007). Recognition by government that this dissatisfaction was justified was implied by ‘Project Consolidate’, an initiative of the then national Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG), now Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CGTA), to redress the fact that “modes of interaction, engagement and support to local government are not having the desired impact on local government and communities,” (Joshua, 2007: 29).
Notably, 48 percent of South Africa’s 284 municipalities made this list. In short, if the development of public participation policy in South Africa was motivated by lofty ideals, its recent implementation has been mostly a response to local governance failure.
Basically, public participation is about allowing people to execute their most basic human right—the right to participate in decisions regarding their future, as stated in the South African Bill of Rights. So, what then is participatory governance?
The White Paper on Local Government of 1998 suggests that “municipalities should develop mechanisms to ensure citizen participation in policy initiation and formulation, and the monitoring and evaluation of decision-making and implementation”.
However, it is really only with the Municipal Structures Act of 1998 and especially the Municipal Systems Act of 2000 that participatory local governance was given institutional life. Where the Structures Act sets out the various structures of local government, including ward committees, the Systems Act outlines how they are to be used. More specifically, Section 16 obliges municipalities to “develop a culture of municipal governance that complements formal representative government with a system of participatory governance,” (Municipal Systems Act of 2000: 6).
The most important innovation of public participation at local government level lies in the ward committee system. The Municipal Systems Act provides for ward committees to be established in each ward of a Category A or Category B municipality, if the municipality so chooses. Of late though, government has been suggesting that the ward committee system be made compulsory for all municipalities.
Chaired by the ward councillor, ward committees are intended to consist of up to 10 people representing “a diversity of interests in the ward, with women equitably represented,” (Municipal Systems Act of 2000: 24). Ward committees may make recommendations on any matter affecting their wards. Notably, their primary function is to “create formal, unbiased communication channels between the community and the council,” (Friedman, 2005: 36). They are also required to mobilise the community to participate in service payment campaigns, development planning and budgetary processes, decisions about service provision, by-laws and the like.
Additionally, participatory governance requires involvement of the public in core municipal processes like development planning, performance management, the budget and strategic decisions relating to services. In short, public participation is statutorily injected into the most important municipal processes. Government policy on how to engage with the public on these issues is quite limited, and usually manifests in the insistence of using ward committees. In practice, it seems this happens through the use of public meetings called by the mayor, also known as a mayoral izimbizo (public meeting).
However, both ward committees and mayoral izimbizos are poor representations of the empowered and participatory institutions of this sort. Neither ward committees nor mayoral izimbizos have any decision-making powers, and certainly none over resources. These powers are expressly reserved in law for politicians and may not be delegated to ward committees.
Perhaps more importantly, the deliberative role of both ward committees and izimbizos are practically confined. Although ward committees are meant to identify key issues affecting their ward and deliberate upon them, the failure to integrate ward committees explicitly into the decision-making or delivery processes of the local municipality means that there is little impact that they beyond merely deliberating.
For example, in the Amahlathi municipality where the writer is currently facilitating capacity building workshops of ward committee members, some ward committee members have indicated that they have never attended any of the council meetings. Some of these ward committees have been operational since 2006.
This is tantamount to breaking the law, especially when one considers the fact that the Municipal Structures Act of 1998 highlights that at least 75 percent of council meetings ought to be open to the public. Currently, they have no role in development planning or the budget process at municipal or local level, nor do they have any direct say on how officials deliver on these commitments.
Currently, all ward committees do is to encourage the voice of ward councillors at the monthly council meetings. By design, a ward committee must transfer its deliberations through the ward councillor to the council. Should the ward councillor be incompetent, disinterested, or marginalised for some other reason, the ward committee’s deliberations will count for nothing.
Indeed, a strong case can be made that ward councillors are the weakest of all councillors, due to the fact that the electoral system is only half constituency-based. The other half is proportional representation as guided by party lists. Notably, the senior party politicians in local government are almost always elected by party list and not from wards, so as to ensure their place in government. A consequence of this is that key political players, especially those who sit on the municipal executive, do not have ward committees. In effect then, ward committees are a participation mandate imposed on disempowered politicians.
Arguably, since 1994 an attempt has been made to institutionalise public participation through various ‘invited spaces’. The idea is to complement the system of multi-party representative government with a form of community participation that draws on indigenous traditions of democratic practice. Unfortunately, these invited spaces are not really working. Rather than being forums for genuine community engagement with local leaders, they tend to be at best exercises in public relations, and at worst, sites for capture by political elites.
In conclusion, as long as public participation in local governance remains limited to ward committees and izimbizos in their current form, it will be largely meaningless. With little incentive for citizens to participate in them, these structures will remain another space for dominant political entities to exert their will.
Thabile Sokupa is Project Coordinator at Afesis-corplan. This article was first published in the August-September 2009 edition of The Transformer (link to http://www.afesis.org.za/the-Transformer/augustseptember-2009 ) and is republished here with permission from Afesis-corplan.
Carrim Y (2001) ‘Bridging the Gap Between the Ideas and Practice: Challenges of the New Local Government System’ in Umrabulo, 10.
Joshua, C. Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy in David Estlund (ed).2007. Democracy. Maldon and Oxford: Blackwell.
Robert, M. 2007. Democracy Without the People: Economics, Governance, and Representation in South Africa. Journal of Democracy, Vol 13 No 1, pp 5-21.
Section 16(1) of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000. Department of Provincial and Local Government. Pretoria, South Africa.
Friedman, S. 2005. On Who’s Terms: Participatory Governance and Citizen Action in Post-Apartheid South Africa? Paper presented at International Institute of Labour Studies Workshop ‘Participatory Governance: A New Regulatory Framework? 9-10 December, Geneva.
- ‘Reducing Electoral Conflict: A Toolkit’ is a basic guide for South African organisations to contribute to the prevention, management and mitigation of violence when and where it occurs over the election period. Prepared by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, the toolkit focuses on aspects of elections such as; electoral competition, analysing conflict, tracking conflict in your community, conflict intervention, report guide and directory of election contacts.
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