Commitment strengthens the pillars of democracy in Namibia

Niël Terblanché

As Namibia embarks on yet another significant chapter in its democratic journey, the 2024 electoral processes, including the General Registration of Voters (GRV) and the Presidential and National Assembly elections, the nation’s commitment to democratic principles must be the ultimate focus.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia’s (ECN) launch of the Electoral Calendar, Democracy Building, Awareness Campaign, and Service Charter in Windhoek marks a crucial moment, underlining an integrated effort to modernize and refine electoral systems.

Yet, this moment also invites the nation to reflect critically on the health of democracy in Namibia, assessing both its strengths and the challenges that lie ahead.

Dr Elsie Nghikembua, Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) during the launch of the electoral calendar, has outlined a comprehensive roadmap for the year’s electoral cycle, emphasizing the importance of efficient planning, coordination, and execution of electoral processes.

The introduction of the Integrated Mobile Voter Registration System (IMVRS) demonstrates a leap towards leveraging technology to enhance voter registration and ensure the integrity of electoral processes.

However, the decision to use manual ballot voting for the upcoming elections, while rooted in tradition, raises questions about balancing technological advancement with tried-and-tested methods to maintain electoral integrity and trust.

Namibia’s approach to civic and voter education, particularly the emphasis on enhancing electoral democracy through electoral processes, is commendable.

The Civic and Voter Education Awareness Strategy aims to combat voter apathy by fostering a sense of civic duty and encouraging participation in the electoral process. This is crucial, as low voter turnouts, such as the 60.8 percent recorded during the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections, indicate a potential threat to the vibrancy of democracy.

Engaging citizens, especially the youth, in meaningful participation in the upcoming elections is vital for the sustenance of democratic values.

Moreover, the regional context, with Namibia and four other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries holding elections in the same year, offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the collective health of democracy in the region.

Erastus Uutoni, Minister of Urban and Rural Development, during the launch of the Electoral Calendar, rightly pointed out that democracy, once rooted, is difficult to eradicate but requires continuous nurturing.

This statement stresses the importance of not only focusing on the procedural aspects of democracy but also ensuring that democratic culture and values are deeply ingrained in society.

However, challenges remain. The ECN’s efforts to ensure a free, fair, transparent, and credible election are laudable, yet the efficacy of these measures will be tested in the face of political, social, and economic pressures.

The global rise in concerns over electoral integrity, misinformation, and political polarization serves as a reminder that democracy is not just about the ability to vote but also about the quality of political discourse, the protection of rights and freedoms, and the accountability of elected officials.

The health of democracy in Namibia, as mirrored in the 2024 electoral processes, presents a mixed picture.

On one hand, there are significant strides towards enhancing electoral transparency, engagement, and modernization.

On the other, the enduring challenges of voter apathy, balancing technological advancements with traditional voting integrity, and fostering a robust democratic culture remain.

As Namibia continues on its democratic path, the collective effort of all stakeholders – government, civil society, and citizens – is imperative to nurture and strengthen the pillars of democracy for future generations.

The success of the 2024 elections will not solely be measured by the conduct of government, civil society, and citizens but by the extent to which they contribute to the deepening of democratic principles and practices in Namibia.

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