SONA shout-backs are the new normal

We watched the State of the Nation speech delivered by President Hage Geingob. We want to focus on the shout-backs during his speech by a few members of the parliament.

With the change in the Swapo over-dominance in the previous parliament, there are now more voices of elected parties that have much to say. And, they will most definitely say it.

Many of these voices are younger and might be new to public politics. Others have different experiences and agendas and will be ready to ‘take on’ the mighty Swapo Party in a den it previously controlled. Regardless of the motivation, shout-backs from the benches of the legislature are the new normal in Namibian politics.

Long have parliaments in other countries witnessed shouts from seated members when statements are being made. They say just about anything, regardless of who is speaking, if what has been said by the speaker is unpalatable.

There have been US Presidents delivering speeches who are booed by the Congress.

In South Africa, particularly from Julius Malema’s EFF, this is a normal thing. They shout-back so much, one cannot even understand what points speakers are trying to make.

We have seen fistfights in parliament sessions in a few countries. A speaker hurls an accusation that another party does not like and it is Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder round 1.

The grand old British Parliament also has ‘question time’ that is quite amusing in terms of issues thrown in the face of the Prime Minister. Long, diluted, rambling ‘questions’, throw shade all over the place.

Namibian lawmakers and its president must put their big boy and big girl pants on and get ready for the future.

There will be no more teacher-student climates in the parliament when the president or any other person is speaking. The new normal is that the elected opposition will call any speaker out when something is said that they don’t like. The parliament floor will become more ‘live’ from now on.

Many who have attended sessions of the Namibian Parliament in the past have witnessed quips (some quite hilarious) being thrown out when various people have the floor. Swapo MPs have regularly engaged in throwing one-liners at opposition members. As they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

That said, we would not like to see a parliamentary verbal free-for-all, like what we witness in South Africa. It is not fair to over talk a speaker so that the public and the media cannot hear the points made. Everyone must be heard, whether people like what is being said or not. There must be some sort of decorum. The new normal for a protocol in the parliament must be re-established.

Our nearly octogenarian president’s hackles went up at the new normal during the SONA. As one who has always prickled at criticism, even when done on bended knee, shout-backs are definitely something Geingob will never like. However, that is what he is going to get.

Accepting this reality, why not sit with advisers, parliament floor managers for his party and make a plan. Shout-backs can go both ways. Those shouting need to know that. Then, a détente of sorts can be mutually and professionally agreed.

There must be parameters and limits established for this new parliament that is no longer seating a Swapo super-majority. It can be done, but it will take a modern approach to manage elected representatives.

The ‘honour-our-elders’ public and ruling party members will protest about the rudeness of the shout-backs. The old school ‘do-as-I-say’ professors like the Honourable Speaker will invoke the name of God (in a non-sectarian state) and indignantly demand that people ‘behave!’. All of this is for nought. The new normal means new rules.

Why not have the ruling party members who never say anything anyway, be on verbal ‘patrol’ on the floor and ready to cut back at those who speak out of turn. This would give them something productive to do other than just sit there or fall asleep in their chairs.

Of course, to be on ‘opposition-patrol’ will require a quick wit, sharp mind, and an arsenal of one-line rebukes. It will also require a rapport between parliamentarians to ensure that no intervention is personal or malicious. Will any of the Swapo silent ones be able to do this? We doubt it.

On the other hand, let those who are inclined to speak out of turn just to grab headlines or be divisive for the sake of it, focus on the meaning of democracy. There is a time to shut up and listen. If the people cannot hear what is being said, the interupter is being a bully. There is no place in the halls of democracy for bullies.

Everyone must brace themselves for the new way the parliament is being run. As the young people say, the legislators’ domain will ‘turn up.’

There is no rolling back the will of the people in sending their parties to Parliament in higher numbers. No whip or chair or angry presidential bluster will corral them. In fact, Geingob and Katjavivi’s old school reactions to the SONA shout-back will encourage them! It played right into their hands. These voices were elected by their parties precisely to be demonstrative different. That is exactly what they are going to do.

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