The controversy surrounding the voters’ register and a pending court case in which opposition parties dispute the outcome of the November 2009 presidential and national assembly election results in Namibia, is bad news for democracy in that country, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and for the African continent in general.
In 2004, the opposition parties, led by the Congress of Democrats (CoD), approached the High Court to have the votes recounted. Unfortunately, the recount produced the same outcome – due to lack of human resource capacity.
Similarly, the 2009 elections are disputed by opposition parties, led by the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP). These parties launched a second court case arguing that the elections be nullified, its results be set aside and/or order for a recount.
The biggest question at the moment is whether the elections were held under free and fair conditions, or whether they were a reflection of the will of the people. No matter how you look at this problem, the following are some of the reasons to believe that the elections were not free and fair - the voters’ register is not accurate because there’s no proof that it was updated; the voters’ register contains about 90 000 Namibians who are dead; and over 50 000 voters have cast their votes even though their names are not appearing on the voter’s register.
In addition, there are activists and opposition parties who argue that the voter registration process was flawed and might have created an opportunity for certain voters to vote twice. The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) is empowered by the Electoral Act of 1992 to register voters using their identity cards and/or a sworn statement. Namibians who vote using sworn statements are issued with voter cards, which can be produced when voting. However, a person could register more than once at different locations since the voter’s roll is not computerised and centralised. This is one of the reasons why people’s names are duplicated on the voters’ roll.
Despite warnings from the opposition parties and CSOs, including the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), that the voters’ register was flawed, the ECN went ahead to have it gazetted. In fact, the NSHR observer status was withdrawn and later lifted when the organisation went to court, arguing that the ban was illegal because there was never a hearing before the decision was made, as required by the law.
Lack of punitive measures on the code of conduct for political parties also makes it impossible for politicians to play by the rules. The current code of conduct is nothing but a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ because it is not part of the Electoral Act. This is one of the reasons why placards and political party colours were visible in some of the polling stations during the elections. And no action has ever been taken against politicians or members of political parties who violate the code of conduct. It will be in the interest of Namibia and Africa in general for the electoral code of conduct to be legalised.
What role did SADC, African Union, European Union (EU) and other observers played during the elections? What made all these observers to conclude that the elections were free and fair? Clearly they did not do their homework properly. They must be embarrassed wherever they are for declaring the elections free and fair even when they knew that certain problems existed prior the polls. Are they impartial when declaring whether the elections were free and fair? Are some of these observers, the EU in particular, pursuing certain agendas against certain African countries?
We stand tall in arguing that the November 2009 elections were not free and fair and that they never reflected the will of the people of Namibia. There’s no smoke without fire. An interesting example is the Okatyali constituency in the Oshana region where 2 000 votes were casted in an area with a population of 2 000 people. This is a 100 percent voter turnout, which means even the underage children voted.
It is therefore premature for SWAPO Party’s secretary-general, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, to urge political party officials to prepare themselves to take up their parliamentary duties while there is a pending court case. Maybe some of us are interested in knowing how she plans to clean up the mess, including putting systems in place to enable the country to hold free and fair elections in future. ECN and SWAPO Party have all confirmed that ‘administrative/human errors’ were committed, so, there were problems.
The Department of Home Affairs & Immigration also does not have a plan in place to help the ECN to update the voter’s roll.
The ECN initially announced that 1.3 million people registered to vote. The announcement soon became a laughing matter when the ECN revised the number to 1.1 million and then to 900 000. Activists and political analysts argue that the number of voters exceeded the number of those who appear in the voters’ roll.
Some of the lessons we learned are that the ECN should be independent in a true sense, the voter’s register should be computerised and centralised and that the National Planning Commission should work together with the ECN, using the updated population register. Why is the ECN only allowed to function when the country prepares for elections? Does the ruling SWAPO Party take democracy serious or not?
Only free and fair conditions make free and fair elections possible; only free and fair elections can produce credible results; only credible and binding elections can produce a legitimate government; and only a legitimate government can guarantee conditions of peace and stability.
- Steven Mvula is public relations officer at the National Society for Human Rights and Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT.