Tolerance in Political Campaigns for November 2014 [column]

THIS year Namibia has again set out for another political marathon in the form of elections to the State House and Parliament in 2015.

Although election campaigns have still not officially started, a hint of political intolerance can already be detected in some regions. Political intolerance by its very nature is not only disgusting, but also dangerous when it becomes a culture and could lead to a stage where all our key political parties have acquired this culture and their cadres will know no other type of politics except that of violence. A culture of political intolerance is undesirable and is usually a precursor to politically inspired violence. We do not need that in Namibia. Avoiding this danger is the duty of all Namibians across the political spectrum and a joint responsibility. Therefore, leaders of political parties, communities, churches, traditional authorities etc should take a firm position on this issue, which is that “no form of political violence should be tolerated from any quarter of the land of the brave during political campaigns for the 2014 elections”.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba has already provided a directive by appealing to all political parties to campaign peacefully and to avoid violence, which includes provocative behaviour, attitudes, actions and language throughout the election process. The president’s call is unbiased, because he clearly urged, not only members, supporters and sympathisers of the Swapo Party, to exercise restraint at all times, but all political parties. The president also underscored the government’s standpoint that there should be no intimidation during the political campaigns of 2014. All Namibians have an obligation to accept this call by the president and to ensure that the forthcoming democratic elections must not only be free and fair, but also be seen to be free and fair.

Political leaders are highly influential individuals among their supporters and sympathisers and therefore the nation expects them to promote understanding and tolerance of dissenting political views. Electoral campaigns in a free Namibia are not armed struggles, but friendly political discourse predicated upon persuasion when competing for popular support in order to gain power and the right to govern. The contexts in which political parties conduct their campaigns are characterised by differing religious, ethnic, economic and ideological lines and other differences. Hence, their major role is to provide opportunities for citizens to interact and work together. Political brawls such as the one that recently took place at Outapi are themselves the manifestation of political immaturity that can always bring the country’s name into disrepute. In this era of high info-tech and intensive social networks, incidents of political violence such as the Outapi incident of physical confrontation, should not be a topic of importance in Namibia alone, but should be part of a wider international political discourse and debate. The political maturity of any nation correlates directly with its independence. Therefore, the fact that after 24 years of independence incidents of political violence still occur presents a serious paradox. South Africans, although their democracy is four years younger than Namibia’s have demonstrated a high level of political maturity, because their election process was declared by many observers as peaceful and therefore free, fair and exemplary.

It behooves all political parties in Namibia, therefore, to heed and support the president’s call for political tolerance. The leaders of all political parties should publicly engage their supporters and call on them to shun violence in the run up to the polls. What the supporters of political parties, especially at grassroots level, need to hear from their leaders is the relationship between peace and development, as well as the welfare and the wellbeing of communities. The politics of intolerance and hate speech are counterproductive and should not be allowed to contaminate the minds of the younger generation. The leaders of all political parties should embrace the responsibility to condemn all violent acts committed, not only by members of rival political parties, but also by their own members ahead of any elections. Sustainable democracy is a function of political education. Hence, it is the responsibility of political parties to educate their cadres against engaging in violence and prepare them for being exemplary citizens living together in harmony. Thus political parties are proper institutions for democracy and unifying associations regardless of their differences.

Political leaders should, at the same time, be political strategists with far-reaching vision to anticipate political actions that may trigger clashes between their supporters and supporters of other political parties. One particular type of political action that this article would like to caution against is the dangerous practice of ferrying supporters from one region, town, location, village to another for political activities. Such a practice may create an enabling environment for political violence. The practice in Namibia is that when a political party fails to garner enough support in a particular region or town, the party tends to transport people from other places to the regions or towns where a rally or any political event is being held.

This is not democratically or politically wrong. However, depending on the political maturity and understanding of the locals in the host region or town, ferrying in people from other places can be confused by some locals with an intrusion and may subsequently lead to violence. In Namibia, almost all parties ferry supporters around to localities where they have no substantial support, but also to places where they want to show power. In the Khomas Region for example, if a political party holds a rally in Klein Windhoek, it is more likely that they will ferry supporters to Klein Windhoek. However, it is less likely that they will transport residents of Klein Windhoek (the majority being whites) to a rally that takes place in Havana or Okahandja Park settlements, for example. In the northern regions, smaller parties attract very little support in some regions, constituencies, towns, villages as well as in traditional authority districts and are therefore more likely to ferry supporters to such place. In such cases they risk violence between locals and their party supporters, but it also renders political analyses and opinion polls to gauge real support virtually useless. Leaders should make this a central point in their meetings to prevent fighting and violence.

On the other hand the disruption of political events organised by smaller parties in any area is another way of giving them a very good point to make if they lose elections in those areas. They will always blame violence for their failure to gain support. As the saying in Oshiwambo language goes: “Omuwambo ihasi inaalogwa,” meaning “any Ovambo person who dies there is always a person who bewitched him or her.” Even if the dead person was one hundred and twenty years old, there is always a person to blame for that death. Another saying is: “Iinkundi yaantu ihayi undulwa,” meaning: “do not push a cowerson that is already weak due to hunger or illness, otherwise you will be held responsible for its collapse.”

It is also important to inform political parties that in every election, voter and civic education are essential. For an election to be successful and democratic, voters must understand the end of their rights and beginning of other people’s rights and must be sufficiently knowledgeable and well informed about the rules and laws regulating elections in the country. The most prominent order of elections is tolerance and understanding that the supporters and members of other parties are not enemies, but are brothers and sisters with different political opinions and orientations. Let us be tolerant.

Source : New Era