18 October 2002

NAMIBIA: Introduction of proportional electoral system planned

Municipal elections will be delayed by a year - from February 2003 to February 2004, according to the latest Government proposal submitted to Parliament this week. Deputy Minister of Regional, Local Government and Housing Gerhard Toetemeyer announced the postponement when he tabled the Local Authorities Amendment Bill in the National Assembly on Wednesday, Oct 17. The tabling of the Bill is part of a series of changes to regional councils and local authorities that will affect the length in office and structure of the second-tier authorities. Changes are also being proposed to continue with the proportional representation system, discarding voting by ward as prescribed in the Constitution.

Toetemeyer said shifting the local authority elections would enable the Delimitation Commission appointed this year to determine the boundaries of regions and and constituencies. Elections cannot be held before new constituency boundaries and a fresh voters' roll are drawn up. He said another reason for postponement was to pursue a more "functional and cost-saving approach". Toetemeyer said it would serve Namibia best to have only two elections within a time frame of five years. "This would mean Presidential and National Assembly elections on the same day, as it is the practice presently, and two or three years thereafter local authority and regional elections on the same day. This would imply the shortening of the Regional Council by one year to five years."

An amendment to the Regional Council Act would be tabled next year so that Regional Council and Local authority elections were held at the same time. "Both bodies should initially be elected for four years and thereafter every time for five years," he said. Holding fewer elections could help discourage voter apathy, he argued.

The Deputy Minister also proposed amendments to the Local Authorities Act, 1992, in order to introduce the proportional electoral system instead of the ward system. He said while the winner-takes-all system had the advantage of direct representation, it was unfair to minorities.

The proportional electoral system has been criticised as it would mean that candidates' first allegiances are with political parties, organisations and associations. But Toetemeyer said proportional electoral system is less expensive because seats vacated would have to be filled with the next candidate on the party list, cancelling out by-elections and voter re-registration, as is the case with the ward system. Toetemeyer said the proportional system would ensure greater gender representation as required in the current Act. The amendments are expected to be discussed next week. (The Namibian)

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