New research indicates that HIV/AIDS is undermining the democratic process in Namibia by reducing the number of voters, as well as the number of people who take part in other civic activities. The report comes from the Namibian Institute for Democracy (NID) in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. It says AIDS-related deaths and illnesses, as well as the need to care for the sick and orphaned, are hurting the country's electoral process. Justine Hunter, the project manager for the Public Dialog Center at NID, spoke with VOA English to Africa Service reporter Cole Mallard about the study.
Hunter says the stigma surrounding the disease complicated the research process, but that they were able to gather records that reveal certain indicators, such as age and mortality statistics, that determine trends.
Hunter says AIDS is an important issue in the electoral process.
"[Political decision makers] should more clearly set leadership examples by talking openly about their own status; only one parliamentarian in Namibia has revealed his own status up till now, and only two parliamentarians are talking about how HIV/AIDS has affected their own families.... We believe that political decision-makers should be instrumental in breaking down the walls of silence that surrounds this issue," she says.
Hunter says the report primarily concerns Namibia and that different electoral systems have varying strengths and weaknesses regarding AIDS. She says NID recommends including voter campaign messages designed to help reduce HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, and increasing cooperation between the Electoral Commission and the Ministry of Home Affairs in updating voters. She says NID hopes to contribute to the ongoing debate on reforming southern Africa's electoral systems in general and, more specifically, in Namibia.