Namibian Low voter turnout ‘worrying’

THE voter abstention in Friday's regional by-election - only 22,2 per cent or 5 764 of 24 855 registered voters went to the polls - is worrying, according to Professor Andre du Pisani of the University of Namibia (Unam).

“Our democracy at local and regional level is in trouble and their significance is diminishing,” he told The Namibian yesterday.

“It is extremely worrying that the Executive gets heavily involved in such elections (campaigning).

It undermines the development of democracy at grassroots level like town councillors and regional councillors.”

Du Pisani said the strong involvement of Government ministers in campaigning for local or regional elections like at Omuthiya or last Friday in the Tobias Hainyeko constituency, which should be left to councillors, “leads to the reduction of [the significance of] opposition parties”.

“This results in voters feeling discouraged to take part in the voting process,” Du Pisani stated.

The withdrawal of three opposition parties from the Tobias Hainyeko by-election could be a sign of the electorate’s “general dislike of the immature politics prevailing in Namibia”, said Graham Hopwood, the Director of the Institute for Public Policy research (IPPR).

“The quality of election campaigning is not very high with the opposition parties not bringing out their message and mainly complaining about what is wrong.

They could improve their act and have the better arguments on issues,” Hopwood told The Namibian yesterday.

“On the other hand, Swapo did not address bread-and-butter issues but attacked the opposition parties during rallies.”

The voters in the Tobias Hainyeko constituency might have been dissatisfied with the name-calling and “childish insults” in the campaign leading up to the by-election, the IPPR Director said.

In is view, another contributing factor to the low turnout is that regional elections are not very important in Namibia’s political system.

“Decentralisation of functions from central Government to the level of regional councils has not happened in a meaningful way so far,” Hopwood said.

Asked whether the arrest of four opposition politicians on Thursday – for distributing flyers calling on voters to boycott of the by-election – was not an over-reaction, Hopwood said the action was unconstitutional.

Three opposition parties – the RDP, RP and Nudo – distributed thousands of the flyers in the contested constituency on Thursday, which led to the four-hour detention of the four politicians in the Wanaheda Police cells.

“The arrest, if contested in a court of law, will not stand,” the political analyst said, but he questioned the wisdom of calling for a boycott.

“It is the democratic right of parties to do that, but it is better if people go to the polls.”

Lawyer Norman Tjombe said the arrest of the four politicians was unlawful, and their flyers were not illegal.

“It is part of the right to free expression in a democracy,” Tjombe told reporters yesterday.

Swapo Youth League Secretary Elijah Ngurare explained the low voter turnout as a result of voters not thinking it necessary to vote after the three opposition parties pulled out last week.

“The competition left the stage, those opposition parties withdrew, we were sure of a Swapo victory anyway,” he told The Namibian yesterday.

“Especially young voters thought because the opposition chickened out and the new APP party was not a factor at all, they need not go and vote on Friday.”

RP President Henk Mudge said at a news conference yesterday that opposition parties would make a submission to Government requesting that an election with such a low voter turnout should be nullified and a new election organised.

“It is done in other countries and it is time that Namibia follows suit,” he said.

 

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