Update: Today’s New Era quotes McHenry Venaani as saying this will no longer happen. Still, would have been interesting to see the effects of this policy. 

The Namibian led with quite the headline on Wednesday: “Death of Opposition.” The article detailed a whole host of proposed constitutional amendments, the most of which are frankly dangerous. But one of them might actually have the (unintended?) effect of strengthening the political opposition in Namibia – although it is a long shot. Here is the logic:

  1. The five percent cutoff for the National Assembly means that, if things are similar to the last election, only the RDP makes it into parliament.
  2. Quite a few of the leaders of the smaller parties, suddenly deprived of their parliamentary seats, have a very big incentive to join forces with the RDP – the RDP would get their votes and they get to hold on to their seats.
  3. The opposition coalesces behind their strongest member, and we end up with a two-party system – perhaps like they have in the U.S.

Namibia’s opposition has been fracturing. In 1999, eight parties contested the election; in 2009 voters got to chose between 13. In the last decade alone, we saw five parties splinter off from their parent bodies. That many parties have an increasingly ethnic flavour to them does not give me any confidence that this fractionalization is a good idea.

A low-hurdle proportional representation such as ours comes close to the ideal of democracy in the sense that it does allow for many different groups to gain representation in parliament. But too much variety comes at the cost of cohesion: many quiet voices fail to represent the needs of the people when a stronger, unified voice could.

Of course there’s a big problem with my convenient plan: getting opposition leaders to cooperate is a particularly outrageous flight of fancy. These people are where they are to a large degree because of their egos. getting two of them, let alone a dozen, to pull together — it’s almost impossible.

But we can dream, no?