News and Information

ECN Has To Account
November 29, 2004
Editorial Comment

THE discovery near Okahandja on Thursday of ballots from the National Assembly elections holds serious consequences for the electoral process and democracy in Namibia.

It cuts to the heart of the integrity of that most precious of rights, people's democratic right to vote.

Whether one or 6 000 ballots have gone missing is not the issue.

Whether they were votes for an opposition party or the ruling party is also not the issue.

It is about the people.

One of the most important pillars of democracy has been damaged almost beyond repair.

Trust in the system has been breached.

Whether we like it or not, the handling of the Presidential and National Assembly elections has cast a pall over Namibia's democracy.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) has done nothing to try and salvage people's faith in the process.

On the contrary, they seem intent on making matters worse by what has been an inept and nonchalant approach to a matter in which due gravity and sober-mindedness is needed.

What a difference it would have made if ECN officials had expressed shock at the discovery of the ballots and vowed to do everything in their power to get to the bottom of the matter without fear or favour, and to do so swiftly.

Despite the best attempts of the ECN to encourage a high turnout during this week's Regional Elections, a number of people have already indicated they will not bother to cast their ballots.

This is not because of apathy or an inherent lack of enthusiasm on the part of the electorate.

They turned out in force in the NA and Presidential elections.

The first indications of problems and the possibility of the process being flawed started with the counting process.

However much the ECN insists that it has been carrying out its assigned functions and duties to the "letter and spirit of the Electoral Act", no one can ignore the fact that there have simply been too many problems with the process.

In the wake of the above mentioned came the 'find' on Thursday, of a number of ballot papers, some of which had been burned.

'Your vote counts', a slogan of the ECN, will at this point make some laugh out loud.

Ballot boxes should have been sealed and under guard. It appears patently obvious that there has been tampering.

Worst of all is the attitude of the ECN when confronted with this latest incident.

Excuses, ranging from the fact that they may have 'fallen off a truck' to various others, are simply unacceptable.

Five opposition parties last week announced they would seek a court application for an independent audit of the votes polled.

This was before the Okahandja ballot papers were found.

These irregularities, because they can justifiably be termed such, have also called into question the integrity of the electoral body itself.

Missing or unaccounted for or burned ballots may not alter the outcome, but it does sully the entire process and demoralises the voting public.

The ECN is on the defensive, and at pains to assure the public of its integrity, but their handling of this gravest of issues is sufficiently alarming to dent confidence in one of the pillars of our democratic system.

Even the handling of Regional Elections, starting today, with the late gazetting of candidates only over this past weekend, will inspire little faith in the ECN.

The Chair of the Electoral Commission, Victor Tonchi, as well as the Director of Elections, Philemon Kanime, but especially Tonchi, must publicly account for the mess we are in.

If their jobs aren't already on the line, they should be!


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