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Namibia: Electoral Law Amendment Planned

(June 23, 2014) According to a June 12, 2014, news report, the Government of Namibia is urgently planning to amend the law on elections. The revision would add a clause on the parliamentary lists parties must create before the next general election, scheduled for November of this year. The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has said that parties would be banned from both the presidential and the legislative elections if their candidate lists did not have an equal number of men and women. As a result of the 2009 elections, the proportion of female legislators has dropped to 25%, from a previous level of 30%. (Namibia: Cabinet Plans Amendments to Electoral Law to Comply with Gender Equality Requirements, NAMIBIAN SUN (June 14, 2014), Open Source Center online subscription database, Document No. AFL2014061252502361.)


The current Electoral Act, adopted in 2009, was amended nine times through 2013. (Electoral Act, 1992, Act No. 24, 1992, 471 GOVERNMENT GAZETTE OF THE REPUBLIC OF NAMIBIA [GGRN] 109-113 (Aug. 31, 1992); Electoral Amendment Act, Act No. 11, 2010, 4542 GGRN1-2 (Aug. 13, 2010); Electoral Amendment Act, Act No. 9, 2013, 5277 GGRN 1-2 (Aug. 20, 2013); Namibia: Electoral System, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa website (2009).)

The Cabinet decided to take this step following the Conference on Women in Politics and Decision-Making in Namibia, held in November 2013 under the leadership of the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality. One important factor propelling the reform of electoral law is that Namibia has reportedly been slow to implement the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development. (Id.) Namibia is a signatory to this Protocol, which requires that states “endeavor” to achieve by 2015 an equal distribution between women and men of decision-making positions, in both the public and private sectors. (Protocol on Gender and Development(Aug. 17, 2008), art. 12 (1), SADC website.) The document goes on to state that parties “shall adopt specific legislative measures and other strategies to enable women to have equal opportunities with men to participate in all electoral processes including the administration of elections and voting.” (Id. art. 13 (1).)

Namibia is also a party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which states that parties should:

take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:

(a) To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;

(b) To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government; … . (CEDAW (1979), art. 7, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women website [scroll down to locate text].)

Reactions to the Proposal

The proposal to amend the law has been criticized by the Namibian Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) for procedural reasons. According to the organization’s Chairman, Sacky Shanghala, it is surprising that the reforms were contemplated without having been discussed with the Commission. The LRDC has been reviewing a draft law with other electoral system reforms, including provisions for the use of voting machines rather than only paper ballots. (Namibia: Cabinet Plans Amendments to Electoral Law to Comply with Gender Equality Requirements, supra.)

The proposal has also been attacked on substantive grounds. Jeremiah Nambinga of the Rally for Democracy and Progress Party, called it undemocratic and went on to say, “[w]e can’t impose leaders on people on the basis of their gender. In democracy, people must have the right to choose who they want to lead them, irrespective of their gender.” (Id.)