Upholding Democracy: The Right of Protesters to the People’s Parliament

Namibia’s democracy is signified by the ‘people’s parliament’, a symbol of citizen participation and the embodiment of collectivism which amplifies society’s voices.

However, the powers, privileges and immunities of the Parliament Act 17 of 1996, with its well-intentioned goals of safeguarding parliamentary proceedings, inadvertently casts a shadow on the fundamental right of citizens to protest peacefully.

The Legal Assistance Centre notes that the act criminalises the obstruction or intimidation of members of parliament (MPs) within the precincts of parliament.

While these rules aim to protect the legislative process, they inadvertently stifle the legitimate voices of non-violent protesters seeking to hold MPs accountable.

Parliament is more than just a building; it is a symbolic space where elected representatives make decisions that shape our nation’s future.

Yet these decisions impact the very citizens who elected them.

Protesting is a democratic right.

Protests at parliament are not acts of aggression. They are rather the expression of frustration and a call for transparency and accountability.

While there are little to no studies on the impact of legislation limiting peaceful protests to parliament, protesting near the parliament is a cornerstone of progressive legislation and could lead to a more democratic legislative house.

For example, the #ShutItAllDown protest in 2020 shook the nation when it closed down Independence Avenue and moved within the vicinity of the parliament, as protesters called for a state of emergency to be declared.

This later led to the parliament drafting and passing several bills to address the growing rate of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases in Namibia.

We can also note that in countries where citizens’ voices are actively heard, trust in the political system is notably higher.

Comparatively, countries which have embraced the right of protesters to access their legislative spaces have experienced a more vibrant and engaged citizenry.

This inclusivity fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens the bond between citizens and their elected representatives. For instance, countries like Sweden and Canada have successfully balanced the need for security with the right to protest, leading to more robust democracies.

Notably, instances where access to legislative spaces is heavily restricted have seen a rise in public discontent.

History tells us that stifling dissent could lead to deeper societal division and erode the very democratic foundations we seek to uphold.

We must ask ourselves: Do we want a democracy where citizens’ voices are muffled, or do we aspire to be a beacon of inclusivity and openness?

As a nation committed to democracy, let us re-evaluate these rules, ensuring they do not inadvertently stifle the legitimate and democratic right of the people to protest peacefully and hold their elected representatives accountable.

After all, the ‘people’s parliament’ should truly belong to the people.

Shonena Nathanael

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