U-Turn On Presidential Appointees’ Voting Rights

The country’s opposition parties have been thrown another lifeline after government decided to shelve plans to hand parliamentary presidential appointees voting rights in the National Assembly.

Prime Minister Hage Geingob made the announcement yesterday afternoon in the National Assembly where lawmakers continued the debate on the Namibian Constitution Third Amendment Bill.

The Bill proposes to increase the membership of the National Assembly from 72 members to 96 members elected on the basis of a party’s parliamentary list.

It also proposes that the six non-voting members who are appointed by the president be increased to eight.

However, during consultations with the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) about the impact of presidential appointees’ voting rights in parliament, government had suggested that they [presidential appointees] get voting powers, except when voting on issues that require a two-thirds majority.

This could be on issues such as the amendment of the country’s constitution.

But Geingob told New Era after yesterday’s parliamentary session: “We have decided not to go ahead with the plans to give the presidential appointees voting rights.”

Geingob however confirmed that the plan to increase the number of members appointed by the president from six to eight still stands.

“The argument of Anton von Wietersheim of RDP made a lot of sense. He explained that if Swapo does not get a two-thirds majority and the president appoints those eight members who all have voting rights, this in essence will give Swapo a two-thirds majority during [parliamentary] votes,” the PM said.

“We realised that if this is the case, we would be disobeying the wishes of those who have elected us, this will be unfair.”

“We then wanted to give them voting powers in other matters, but I just saw it fit not to distort parliament and leave things the way they are,” he said.

It was against this background, said the PM, that government decided to drop plans of introducing a five percent threshold for all parties during the National Assembly elections.

“The five percent threshold will deny smaller parties access to the Assembly if they do not meet it – even if they got enough votes for a seat.”

“When you increase the Assembly, the threshold will reduce and favour the smaller parties. But with the threshold of five percent, even if they get 16 000 votes but at the same time fail to reach the threshold, it means they cannot get the seats.”

When tabling the Bill last month, Minister of Presidential Affairs Albert Kawana said that with an increase in numbers, “I think you may agree with me that the quota for a seat will reduce and for the smaller parties, perhaps they can now make it into the National Assembly.”

“I regard it as an anomaly that the late Otto Herrigel was appointed Minister of Finance, and in that capacity, he had to table the estimates of revenue in terms of Article 126, yet he could not vote on the very budget he tabled. Similar situation with the Minister of Defence, then Major-General (Rtd) Namoloh, who could convince the President and the Cabinet why it is we can even go to war, yet he couldn’t vote on the matter if it were brought to the National Assembly,” Kawana argued.

“Therefore, the National Assembly would be composed of 104 voting members. The concern however, was that if there was a blanket right to vote for the eight appointees, then a party may obtain 61 seats and with the addition of the eight appointees of the President, they can bootstrap a two-thirds majority.”

Although most of the opposition parties said they had no problem with the number of presidential appointees increasing from six to eight, most of them flatly opposed plans to accord presidential appointees voting rights in the National Assembly.

Source : New Era