Unlike Mbeki, Geingob cannot be recalled by Congress

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The media, including social media, have of recent been awash with disillusioned sentiments suggesting that there exist a possibility for the Polokwane ANC political crisis to rear its head in Namibia at the 2017 Swapo Congress, which may result in President Hage Geingob being recalled.

The ANC held its 52nd National Conference in Polokwane, Limpopo, from December 16 to 20, 2007. It elected Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC, who defeated Thabo Mbeki, by then the party’s incumbent president and president of South Africa.

A majority of delegates, including leaders of the National Executive Committee (NEC) were vehemently against Mbeki. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe announced afterwards that: “The ANC has decided to recall the president of the republic before his term of office expires”.

The conference was a precursor to the general elections of 2009, in which the newly elected leader of the ANC, would became the next president of South Africa, as the ANC would enjoy the majority in parliament.

The South African state president is elected by the National Assembly – and the leader of the party that holds the majority would naturally be elected. Therefore, he or she can be recalled by the party on that basis. Therein lays the big difference between the election and recalling of the state president in South Africa and Namibia.

In our case, the state president is elected by direct, universal and equal suffrage. In our situation, the possibility exists for an independent presidential candidate or a popular presidential candidate from a minority party to be elected state president, whether or not his/her political party holds a majority in the National Assembly.

Parties contest seats in the National Assembly through the National Assembly election. On the other hand, our head of state can only be removed under the following circumstances: (a) death, or resignation before expiry of his/her term of office; (b) dissolution of the National Assembly in the circumstances provided for under Article 57 (1) of our Constitution, which states, inter-alia that: (i) The National Assembly may be dissolved by the president on the advice of the Cabinet if the government is unable to govern effectively; (ii) Should the National Assembly be dissolved a national election for a new National Assembly and a new president shall take place within a period of ninety (90) days from the date of such dissolution; (iii) The president shall be removed from office if a two-thirds majority of all members of the National Assembly confirmed by a two-thirds majority of all members of the National Council, adopts a resolution impeaching the president on the ground that he or she has been guilty of a violation of the Constitution, or guilty of a serious violation of the laws of the land, or is otherwise guilty of such gross misconduct, or ineptitude, as to render him or her unfit to hold with dignity and honour the office of the president.

At party level, the Swapo Party president is elected by Congress by secret ballot. He or she may be removed from office by a resolution of the Congress, supported by at least two-third majority of the delegates. Alternatively, he or she may be voted out by the majority of Congress delegates. These are the circumstances under which our president can be “recalled” should such a need ever arise.

The possibility of the Swapo Party Congress to recall a state president is not provided for in the party’s constitution. In other words, Congress is not legally empowered to remove, recall or redeploy a state president duly elected by direct, universal and equal suffrage. It can only elect another party president, in which case we have a state president who is not the party president until national presidential elections are held.

Our national Constitution and the constitutions of our various political parties have no provision for recall per se. In other democracies where such provisions occur, the recall election (also called a recall referendum or representative recall) is considered as a procedure through which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term ends.

Recalls date back to ancient Athenian democracy and feature in several contemporary constitutions, but not in ours. Recalls must fulfill a set of requirements, which should distinguish them from other procedures, such as impeachment.

To be considered an instrument of direct democracy, the process of legally interrupting the term of office of an elected official must involve the initiative and/or vote of the electorate.

The relatively limited international use of the recall system suggests that this procedure is quite problematic, both in itself and in its interaction with the important principles and institutions of representative democracy.

In the first place, it is important to guarantee protection of the rights of both the citizens (those in favour and those against removing an elected official), as well as the rights of the official to be recalled. The recall, like all other direct democracy procedures, has to balance the principles of participation and effective governance.

In view of the aforegoing, it should be noted that the recall mantra being fanned in the media, including social media can only be realised within the provisions of our existing legal instruments. Contemplating anything extra-judicial and unconstitutional would be disastrous.

* Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

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