Mighty Swapo buckles

Resignations galore as ECN holds firm

18 October 2019 | Local News

A number of high-profile members of Swapo, including National Council chairperson Margaret Mensah-Williams, yesterday tendered their resignations with their respective employers, in order to comply with Article 47 of the Namibian Constitution.



Another senior member that resigned was Keetmanshoop Urban constituency Hilma Nicanor, who is also the deputy minister responsible for veteran affairs.

She has quit both positions, Swapo confirmed.

Namibian Sun understands her deputy minister position will not be filled in the meantime.

Digging in its heels, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) this week said it would not compromise the provisions of Article 47, which is a constitutional requirement.

It requires that certain candidates resign from their jobs upon acceptance of candidacy for the National Assembly elections.

Swapo's executive director Austin Samupwa confirmed yesterday that the party, which last week led other parties in protest against the ECN's stance, had resolved to abide by the constitution of the country by having its affected members resign.

Also tendering their resignations yesterday were Walvis Bay constituency councillor Hafeni Ndemula, Oshikuku constituency councillor Modestus Amutse, Rundu town councillor Verna Sinimbo and ministry of education official Veno Kauaria. All of them are among the top 50 on Swapo's candidate list for the National Assembly. Swapo City of Windhoek councillor Fransina Kahungu has withdrawn from the Swapo list.

Article 47 dictates that members of the National Council, local and regional councils must resign if they accept nomination for the National Assembly. Remunerated civil servants must also resign, according to law.

With these resignations, the country may face a spate of by-elections in constituencies vacated by councillors.

The ECN yesterday told Namibian Sun it spends an average of N$1.4 million on each by-election.

The commission invited a flack with its new firm stance after questions were posed about why this constitutional requirement was never implemented religiously in the past.

For example, former permanent secretary Lidwina Shapwa did not resign in 2014 after accepting a nomination for parliament, as well as former Windhoek mayor Agnes Kafula, among others.

Commenting on the matter yesterday, Shapwa said: “The ECN did not ask me to resign immediately. After the elections took place and I saw the number of seats Swapo got and I was sure that I would have a seat in parliament, I resigned from my position.”

ECN chief electoral officer Theo Mujoro said the new firm stance is to ensure the commission does not continue breaking the law.

“My view is that no precedent was set. It may have been an omission on the part of the ECN, but we cannot continue breaching the law. The ECN is just doing its job,” he told Namibian Sun.

Lawyer Norman Tjombe, commenting on the interpretation of Article 47, said the ECN's understanding of this law is spot on.

“Of course it appears to be unfair and seems not to be apparent. The reason for such a prohibition only on some candidates but not others [is not clear]. For instance, the prohibition does not apply to sitting governors or cabinet ministers, although they occupy far more significant public offices than a civil servant, at say a government school.”

The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) yesterday dug in its heels, saying none of its members will resign. The party has submitted its list unchanged, and was in consultation with its lawyers late yesterday for a possible court challenge.



Chaos at parliament

Confusion reigned in parliament, as opposition MPs walked out yesterday. This came amid uncertainty over whether the Article 47 constitutional requirement would be discussed. It later emerged that finance minister Calle Schlettwein simply wanted to give notice that he would be delivering his midterm budget speech next Tuesday.

There was also a screaming match between PDM leader McHenry Venaani and deputy National Assembly speaker Loide Kasingo, with the opposition politician saying Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila has no right to recall MPs to return to parliament while they were on recess. According to him that right lies solely with the head of state and speaker.

JEMIMA BEUKES