Economist calls for deepening of democracyBy: JO-MARÉ DUDDY
THE biggest challenge thousands of Namibians face today and tomorrow as they cast their votes in the fourth presidential and parliamentary elections is to what extent they will succeed in deepening the country’s democracy, the group economics think tank of Standard Bank said yesterday.
“Although the ruling party is expected to retain its majority, gains by opposition and other smaller parties – if accomplished – should be welcomed as part of the necessary but protracted democratic maturation process,” economist Jan Duvenhage said in the group’s report on the election, released in South Africa.
Internationally, Namibia is already classified as a “flawed democracy” and “any additional slippage in the global democracy stakes will be a cause for concern”, he said.
Swapo’s overwhelming majority in Parliament after Independence “may be perceived as a constraint on further democratisation, as liberation movements generally tend to feel entitled to remain in power and resent the interference of other parties”, he said.
Duvenhage referred to Namibia’s ranking of 64th out of 167 countries on the latest Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Namibia got an overall score of 6.48 out of a possible ten points, making it a flawed democracy. A score below six means that a country is a hybrid regime.
“Democratic deepening may result if opposition and smaller parties make gains in the forthcoming election, resulting in a greater balance of power,” Duvenhage said.
Namibia has been slipping on the EIU Democracy Index since 2006, when it held the 59th spot.
Its weaker performance was mainly because of its poor score for ‘Electoral process and pluralism’, which got 5.25 points. Factors the EIU considers when scoring this pillar include whether elections are free and fair, whether political party funding is transparent, and whether citizens are free to form political organisations free of state interference and surveillance.
Namibia fared only slightly better in the category, ‘Functioning of Government’, scoring 5.36. Here the EIU looked at, amongst others, the people’s confidence in government, corruption and accountability.
Duvenhage pointed out that Namibia’s biggest drop since 2006 was recorded in the category for ‘Political culture’. The country scored a much lower 6.88 points last year, which “could be interpreted as a growing lack of confidence in democratic values and institutions”, he said.
“Opposition parties have ample ammunition to criticise the ruling party, as Namibia is facing a number of socio-economic challenges,” Duvenhage said, referring the very high income inequality, unemployment and poverty.
Namibia is also perceived to be “highly corrupt”, he said, referring to the latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
“A greater balance of power may help to reduce the incidence of corruption,” Duvenhage said.
Corruption is often associated with neopatrimonialism, “which refers to personalised patterns of authority where bureaucrats strive to maximise their personal power and control”, he said.
Neopatrimonialism is often a potential problem associated with countries where resources are abundant, like Namibia, he said.
“Neopatrimonial governments do not act in the public interest, but in their own interest. The corrupt elites operate within the state and control the disbursement and allocation of wealth, often based on the exploitation of natural resources,” Duvenhage said.
Swapo is expected to remain in power, but it is not certain that the party will keep its two-thirds majority, he said.
The breakaway parties, he added, “may make some inroads and dent the ruling party’s hegemony, as there appears to be some discontent within the ruling party”.
However, new opposition parties, like those formed in South Africa and Botswana, did poorly in recent elections despite strong initial support.
“It is therefore possible that a similar pattern may emerge in Namibia, thus inhibiting or delaying further democratic deepening,” he said.
Duvenhage said Swapo is not expected to depart from the economic plan spelled out in Vision 2030, which includes a diversified and open-market economy, with a resource-based industrial sector and commercial architecture, as well as a competitive export sector.
“However, it appears that there are elements in the ruling party who would like to see more radical policies adopted. The more left-wing party members, who are said to be linked to the former President Sam Nujoma, appear to support faster black economic empowerment and quicker land reform,” he said.
Namibia’s pressing socio-economic problems will “demand the immediate attention of the government”, Duvenhage stressed.