Namibia: Civil Society Fears Low Voter Turnout

23 September 2019

The coalition of civil society entities in Namibia has warned that the lack of access to information on the upcoming presidential and National Assembly elections this year could lead to a low voter turnout.

This was the observation by several civil society organisations during a consultative meeting on access to information and elections held in Windhoek last week with the African Commission's special rapporteur for freedom of expression and access to information, Lawrence Mute.

The meeting was organised to conscientise stakeholders on the African Commission's guidelines on access to information and elections in Africa, among other things.

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) director Graham Hopwood said there were several issues that could affect the voter turnout during this year's elections.

Namibia recorded a 72% voter turnout during the 2014 presidential and National Assembly elections, and about 1,4 million people will be expected to vote on 27 November.

Of this number, over 200 000 are new voters who were registered this year.

However, Hopwood said the 72% voter turnout recorded in 2014 could drop this year due to a lack access to information by voters.

He added that at the moment, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) was doing very little of what is expected of them in terms of educating voters about the importance of participating in elections, and the electoral process itself.

"They [ECN] don't seem to be doing too much around the country at the moment to educate people either about the general importance of participation, or the electoral process.

"Things like how to use an EVM (electronic voting machine), for example; what the voter verification list is all about; and other relevant information is what they should be telling the people," Hopwood said, adding that additional voter education campaigns could be crucial to educate new voters who would want to know how to use the EVMs.

"We all need to do more to reach out to the people to encourage them to get involved," he noted, stating that with various economic challenges, voters this year seem disenchanted and disillusioned from major political events in the country.

"Some people don't feel their vote will make a difference, and others are in survival mode. So, basically, they are just trying to get by and continue existing. The idea of an election and queuing is just not at the top of their priorities. It could thus affect the turnout," Hopwood continued.

Another factor which could affect the turnout was that young people have also expressed disappointment with the political process.

"They feel that the older people are dominating it, and they don't really have a say in most of the issues of governance. So, it is just a concern", he said adding that more needs to be done within the remaining period in terms of voter education by "making it clear why it is important to participate in a democracy".

Chairperson of the Namibia Media Trust, Gwen Lister, also expressed concern with the lack of access to information on the election process.

She said the fact that most political parties have not yet publicised their election manifestos could also have an effect on the voter turnout.

"Two months before the elections, and there is only one party that has released its manifesto. For the rest, it is just promises. . . promises that it will be out soon. To me, there is a little point in voting if it is not an informed vote".

"And again, that brings us to the importance of access to information and platforms to put pressure on the parties and say, 'you need to be accountable to the voters and show them what you stand for'," Lister urged.

Citizens for an Accountable and Transparent Society (CATS) trustee Carola Engelbrecht said the electoral commission seems confused on whether the voters are properly educated about the upcoming electoral process.

She noted that important information such as the election calendar, polling stations, and the voters' register were not easily accessible to the public, "even on the ECN's website".

"We have no clue of the election calendar, and most of the information is barely available on the ECN's website and Facebook page. Most of the information you will find there is about the people asking when they can get temporary jobs as election officials," she said.

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