Namibia - Political background

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Namibia is a constitutional democracy and one of the newest members of the family of nations. Its independence marked the end of a century of sometimes-brutal colonial rule, as well as 23 years of guerilla war between the South-West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO) and the South Africa Defense Force. In a deal brokered by the two then-superpowers (the United States and the USSR), Angola, Cuba, and South Africa agreed in late 1988 to give Namibia its independence in return for a Cuban troop pullout from Angola. This process began on 1 April 1989 when a United Nations (UN)-supervised ceasefire took effect. The UN effort, the largest of its kind, included over 6,000 civilian and military personnel to monitor both the ceasefire and the subsequent election to determine Namibia's first government. In the early months of the peace plan, over 40,000 political exiles returned to the country. Again, this was the largest repatriation of political exiles ever in the history of the UN.

Elections for the Constituent Assembly, the body that would eventually write the country's Constitution, were held in November 1989. The election was universally praised for being fair and free, a condition of the UN peace plan known as Resolution 435. Over 95% of eligible voters cast their ballots, a remarkable figure given the vast distance most had to cross to reach a polling station. Of the 72 seats in the Constituent Assembly that were contested, SWAPO took a clear majority of 41 seats. At the same time, the balloting also created a viable and strong opposition, consisting of six parties that range across the political spectrum.

The Constitution was written by the Constituent Assembly, and formally adopted on 9 February 1990. Considered one of the most liberal in Africa, the Constitution establishes a system of checks and balances between independent judiciary, executive, and legislative branches. Most forms of discrimination as well as the death penalty are abolished. Fundamental rights such as freedom of religion, speech, peaceful association, and the press are guaranteed. The right to legal representation, prevention of cruel and inhuman treatment, and a fair trial within a reasonable time also figure prominently throughout the document.

The president is limited to two five-year terms of office, and is directly elected by universal suffrage of all Namibians over the age of 18. The 72-member National Assembly also has the power to dissolve the government and call new elections. Soon after independence, legislation was passed with a new structure of regional and local governments. New constituency boundaries served to reduce the impact of ethnic voting blocks.

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