The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) has maintained that the Electoral Commission of Namibia’s interpretation of Section 77 (4) of the Electoral Act 5 of 2014 is flawed as it seeks to disadvantage civil servants interested in becoming Members of Parliament.
PDM President McHenry Venaani told the Windhoek Observer on Thursday night that he was still busy consulting his party’s lawyers on the way forward, although early indications were that ECN’s interpretation of the Electoral Act was “absurd.”
“The whole argument is that candidature is not an assumption of office. Must you leave your job at the Windhoek Observer just because you are going to an interview for another job?” Venaani asked rhetorically.
He said the intention of the drafters of Namibia’s Constitution when they came up with Article 47 was to prevent a situation where public officials hold two offices.
“I am running as a presidential candidate of the country and I am still running as a Member of Parliament, so which role have I assumed? Only when I get elected as president will I have to resign as a Member of Parliament,” he said.
“Mbumba is the Vice President of the country but he is on SWAPO’s list for Members of Parliament because the law requires him to do so. Now is he running for two offices?
“Why are you not saying that Mbumba is holding two offices? Why are not telling Mbumba not to run for a position as Member of Parliament because he is already a Vice President?
“Why are you not telling Venaani not to run for the presidency if he is already a Member of Parliament? But why are you saying that to a teacher, why are you saying that to a nurse? Where is the consistency of the law? The law must be fair, just and equitable.”
He said the confusion being created by the “wrong” interpretation of Section 77 (4) of the Electoral Act 5 of 2014 and Article 47 of the Namibian Constitution was because of the internal fights between Team Harambee and Team SWAPO.
“You are telling me that a teacher in Nkurenkuru cannot run to become a Member of Parliament but a teacher at Windhoek Gymnasium can because the law says only when you are in the public service are you not allowed to run.
“The nurse working at Medi-Clinic can run for Parliament but the nurse working at Katutura State Hospital cannot run for Parliament. It doesn’t make sense. The law can never be interpreted in absurdity and currently, this ECN interpretation has created an absurdity.
“If I am a teacher I am now compelled to resign just because I want to run for Parliament. So are we saying that being a Member of Parliament is a job for the unemployed because that is what you are technically saying?
“Are we then not discriminating against public servants by saying that they must resign if they want to be elected? Elma Dienda came from school and the day that she was elected she resigned as a school teacher but she was not compelled to resign before that.”
Venaani said about 23 members from his party are affected by the ECN’s interpretation of the law.
“If the argument is that no one should run for two offices, why are we not dissolving Parliament, why are we not dissolving cabinet if that is the principle to be applied literally?”
He said the intention of legislators when they wrote the constitution was not to prevent members of the public sector to run for elective office.
“The assumption of office only arrives after the election results. You can’t assume that because I am running for president, I am already the president.”
He threatened to take the ECN to court if his party members who are also civil servants and regional and local authority councillors are barred from registering as candidates this Friday.
“The greatest arbitrator is the courts,” Venaani said. “Our number one option is litigation but our greatest pain with that is getting counsel. The counsels we are trying to get are very busy, they don’t have the time.”
PDM Treasurer General Nico Smit also said Section 77(4) of the Electoral Act 5 of 2014 is unconstitutional.
A defiant Smit said the official opposition party will not remove any of its members from the party’s Parliamentary list if they choose not to resign on their own because the party’s executive does not have the constitutional power to do so.
“We have heard a legal opinion from two senior lawyers regarding this. The Act says that a civil servant, regional or local councillor is not allowed to run as a member of the National Assembly but what the Constitution is saying is something different,” Smit said.
He said it is every Namibian’s constitutional right to be a candidate in any election.
“Every Namibian has the constitutional right to be a candidate in any election so you can’t make a law against the constitution because that law becomes unconstitutional. That is our standpoint. We will not take our people off. They must take them off and we will take it from them,” Smit said.
Article 47 of the Constitution which deals with disqualification of members states that remunerated members of the public service of Namibia or members of the National Council, Regional Councils or Local Authorities are disqualified from becoming members of the National Assembly.
The law further states that the public service shall be deemed to include the defence force, the police force, the prison service, parastatal enterprises, regional councils and local authorities.
SWAPO Executive Director Austin Samupwa told the Windhoek Observer that 16 of the 17 members of the party affected by the ECN’s interpretation had chosen to resign from the civil service or as members of the National Council.
Those that elected to resign include Chairperson of the National Council Margareth Mensah Williams, Executive Chairperson of the National Youth Service Mandela Kapere and the Councillor of the Keetmanshoop Urban constituency Hilma Nicanor.
Fransina Kahungu decided to keep her post, but removed herself from the SWAPO list for Parliament.
Samupwa said the party had already filed its party list with the ECN and Friday’s nomination event was just ceremonial.
He said SWAPO members had no problem with resigning from the civil service or the National Council because the party is confident of winning with a resounding majority in next month’s Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Other SWAPO MP hopefuls that have resigned include Kletus Karondo, Bertha Dinyando-Nyambe, Verna Sinimbo, Hafeni Ndemula, Veno Kauaria, Nono Katjingisua, Maria Elago, Modestus Amutse, Jennelly Matundu, Phillipus Katamelo, Helalia Mukapuli, Katrina Shimbulu and Werner Iita.