Namibia: Manual Counting Set to Delay Results

An Independent Patriots for Change meeting.
26 November 2020

ELECTORAL Commission of Namibia (ECN) chief Theo Mujoro said yesterday's local authority and regional council election results could be delayed because of the manual counting being used but he insisted that the majority of results could be concluded by the end of today.

Around 1,4 million Namibians registered with the ECN to vote in this year's elections. These elections are often affected by low turnout compared to presidential and National Assembly contests.

The elections could be a test for Swapo's dominance in rural and urban areas across the country.

The ruling party lost support in several economic towns such as Erongo and Khomas in last year's elections.

The 2019 elections were marred by allegations of rigging through the electronic voting machines, but yesterday's main complaint was the slow pace of the process. The process, however, improved at some polling stations later in the day.

Unlike in the past when electronic voting machines tallied the votes when polls closed, this time this will be done manually.

It is, however, not the first time Namibia is conducting national elections using ballot papers that need manual counting.

ECN electoral chief Mujoro told The Namibian yesterday that he does not want to compare the electronic and paper-based voting.

"Of course, the manual process will take longer. But we are not worried that the results will be massively delayed," he said.

According to him, the paper-based system has its advantages such as transparency and credibility, factors he said compensates for the slight delay.

Asked if the ECN is hoping to finalise results by tomorrow, Mujoro said: "I don't want to give you a timeline. I have learnt my lesson last year.

"We hope the large part of the election results from local authorities will be done by Thursday (today)," Mujoro added.

Political commentator and director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Graham Hopwood yesterday said the results would depend on how well-trained ECN officials and party agents are.

"Because if they start objecting to every vote, saying it is a spoiled or rejected ballot, that would delay the process," Hopwood said.

He added: "If everybody is trained properly, we should have the results tomorrow (today), but if not, it could take several days".

The results will have to be checked and verified by the ECN before they are all officially announced at constituencies.

Hopwood has monitored Namibian elections for close to two decades.

"It is up to the ECN to announce the results publicly to avoid confusion. The problem in the past was that the returning officers and presiding officers at polling stations made some innocent mistakes on the forms, when they were tallying the totals and things had to be sent back and that is where the delays have come from during those elections. Even with the EVMs, that was the case," Hopwood said.

He said the forms are sometimes filled out incorrectly.

"There has to be some kind of checking process by the ECN before these things are made public," the IPPR chief said.

"Pen or pencil, it doesn't matter. But this time the concern is the health risk with the Covid-19. I think the ECN could have encouraged the voters to come with their own pens because we have heard that the pencils were not being sanitised," Hopwood added.

Another political commentator, Ndumba Kamwanyah told The Namibian yesterday that the ECN has a track record of using paper-based voting.

"I hope the experience from 1989 up to where we started using EVMs has been taken into account and that they will rely on that experience," he said.

"If they do not, then we might have a problem with the counting and verification processes. We have conducted successful elections with paper ballots in the past and this time it will all depend on how prepared the ECN is," Kamwanyah said.

He said, so far he has not heard of any hiccups with the voting process apart from the slow process which could mean the process is running smoothly.

"I hear the voting process is a little slow and that there are a lot of long queues, but that is expected because we might have a very high turnout for these elections," Kamwanyah added.

The ECN returned to the use of ballot papers after the Supreme Court ruled out the use of electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) from Namibia's electoral process.

Mujoro earlier this week said the announcement of results of individual constituencies and local authorities could be done at different times depending on the voting populations and voter turnout as well as the number of candidates and political parties contesting a particular constituency.

Mujoro said the mobility of teams operating mobile polling stations could also play a part in the collation of votes.

The allocation of local authority seats will be done after the collation of votes from all polling stations, and every constituency in a given local authority is completed.

RIGGING ALARM

The Landless People's Movement has since last year complained about election rigging.

Party leader Bernadus Swartbooi on Tuesday held an urgent press conference on what he said was a concerted plan by Swapo and the ECN to rig the elections.

Swartbooi pointed to the "deliberate confusion" created by the ECN with the printing of more ballot papers than needed in some constituencies and allegations of plans to drug political party representatives as proof for attempted rigging.

Although the issues of printing and sorting are dealt with by a political liaison committee of which LPM is a member, Swartbooi said his party felt that there was no need to sue the ECN for the confusion it created because they had no money.

He also said they wanted to concentrate on building the party at the grass-roots level before it can challenge the system and address these irregularities.

ECN's chairperson, Notemba Tjipueja, yesterday said Swartbooi's allegations were baseless.

"We strongly call on political stakeholders to refrain from creating such falsehoods as this has the ability to cause confusion and anxiety among voters. This is very serious misinformation which is meant to mislead the electorate and cause alarm among the general public," Tjipueja said.

This is not the first time that the LPM leader has come up with allegations of election rigging by the ruling party.

During last year's presidential and National Assembly elections LPM also claimed vote rigging a day before the elections. Without providing evidence, LPM claimed that there were some Indian hackers who were airlifted into the country to manipulate the EVMs.

During this year's supplementary voters' registration LPM also claimed that the ruling party had been transporting people from the north to register as voters in the //Kharas region. LPM had an opportunity to lodge objections and verify these allegations after the provisional voters' register was published early November.

However, Swartbooi on Tuesday said they failed to lodge objections because they had no time to do it and that they were concentrating on campaigns.

TAKE THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH

Several Namibian leaders expressed satisfaction with the election.

Prescient Hage Geingob said his voting this morning went smoothly and he was pleased. He urged Namibians to cast their votes because it is their democratic right.

Prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said all Namibians should exercise their democratic right to vote, while PDM leader McHenry Venaani said he was pleased with the turnout and expressed hope that his party wins the majority of seats.

Affirmative Repositioning movement leader Job Amupanda started his bid to be mayor several years ago.

He told The Namibian yesterday that his decision to seek political office was to add political power to their institution.

He said the AR and other pressure groups are often at the mercy of politicians, mostly from the ruling party.

"Our calculations are that we are definitely in those municipalities. The only concern is at what level. Are we 100% in control, 90% in control or 50% in control?" he said.

Amupanda said taking up political office does not mean they will stop being grass-root activists.

"We are going to be fighting from the inside. We have been fighting from the streets. We will still fight from the streets," he added.

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