Understanding regional and local elections

Willem N Namboga

Regional and local elections are important, but many people do not understand how they are constituted. The President and the members of the National Assembly represent all the people of Namibia. But individual communities need other government bodies which are closer to them to focus on the issues and problems of the community.

Local government focuses on the needs of the people who live in that local authority. Regional and local councilors are important contacts for lobbying on regional and local issues.

Some regions are very well developed, with many schools and clinics and a good supply of water and electricity, but other regions do not have enough services. Similarly, the problems affecting Karasburg local authority are not necessarily the same problems affecting Helao Nafidi Local authority. A regional government can focus on the needs of a single region instead of having to think of the entire nation all at once.

The Namibian Constitution establishes three levels of government:

Central government, Regional government and Local government. Each region has been divided into constituencies. In total there are 121 constituencies and 57 local authorities. A local Authority refers to either a municipality, town council or village council. Local authorities at municipality level are such as Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay amongst others. At the Town Council level we have for example Oshakati, Omuthiya, Rundu while at Village Council level we have Gibeon, Tses, Berseba, Divundu etc. The classification of a local authority affects its duties and powers – towns have responsibility for more services than villages, and municipalities have responsibility for more services than towns. Village councils have 5 members. Town councils have 7-12 members and municipal councils 7-15 members – depending on their size.

Local Authority elections are based on proportional representation. That means, when voters go to the polls they are going to vote for political parties and not individuals. To vote in the local authority elections, a voter should have been living in that specific local authority for a minimum period of one year prior to the elections. Each party prior to the elections should have submitted a list of the people it wishes to put on the council should it garner enough votes. Depending on the number of votes gained, each party then gets allocated seats on the council (municipal council, town council or village council).

For the Windhoek municipal council for example, the Swapo party won 5 seats out of the available 15, IPC got 4, LPM 2, AR 2, while PDM and NUDO earned 1 each. Once constituted, these 15 people will then vote for a Mayor and Deputy Mayor from amongst themselves. The same happens in other municipalities and town councils. A village council elects a chairperson and a vice-chairperson. The mayor and deputy mayor serve as the chairperson and vice­chairperson of the council. They are responsible for formulating policies, promoting employment, and monitoring the implementation of the council’s policies.

The mayor and deputy mayor are accountable to the people who live in the local authority. Municipal and town councils elect management committees from amongst their members each year. A management committee has 3-5 elected members, depending on the size of the council. It also includes the mayor and deputy mayor. The management committee is responsible for seeing that the council’s decisions are carried out. It controls the council’s budget. It also has the power to ask the council to reconsider a decision considering factors pointed out by the committee.

Unlike the Local Authority elections, Regional Council elections are based on voting for an individual rather than a party. For regional council elections, voters in each constituency vote for a person to represent their constituency in their regional council. This person is called a Councilor. Regional Council Elections are based on a ‘First past the post’ model. In other words, it’s ‘winner takes all’. We have recently seen this in Windhoek West constituency where Swapo Candidate Emma Muteka won by a margin of 3 votes.

So, what is a regional council? It is basically a small committee made up of all constituency councilors from a specific region. Its job is mainly to work together with the National Planning Commission to make a development plan which will guide growth and development in each region. Regional councils also help local governments in the region.

Once constituted, the regional council must select three (3) of its members to represent the region in the National Council. The National Council has 42 members, 3 from each region. Each Regional Council elects a management committee from amongst its members to hold office for half of the Council’s term. The committee will have 3 members if the Regional Council is small (less than 9 members) and 4 members if the Council is larger (9 or more members). Each Regional Council must also appoint a chief regional officer (popularly known as CRO) who is responsible for carrying out the Council’s decisions and directing the administration of the Council’s affairs.

It is also worth noting that the law on local authorities requires affirmative action for women. Affirmative action is a positive step to help a group of people who have been disadvantaged in the past. Because women have suffered special discrimination in Namibia in the past, there are special measures to help women gain seats on local authority councils. Each political party participating in a local authority election must include a specified number of women on its list of candidates, with the number depending on the size of the council. Party lists for councils of 10 or fewer members must include three women, and party lists for councils of 11 or more members must include five women. Because of this affirmative action, women are very well represented on local authority councils.

One especially important question that Namibians continue to ask is: Why is there a one-year residency requirement for local elections, but not for regional elections?

Firstly, not everyone in Namibia lives within the borders of a local authority, but everyone lives in a region. Since regional councils send representatives to the National Council, it is important for every Namibian citizen to vote in one region or another. If there were a one-year residency requirement for regional elections, people who had recently moved would be left out.

Secondly, local authorities do not send representatives to the national level. So, only people who have lived in a local authority long enough to understand its issues and its needs have the right to vote for the members of the local authority council.

The author is a proud Namibian citizen and resident of Olutsiidhi Village, Ogongo Constituency.

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