News and Information

Poll papers handed over
December 17, 2004

THE Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) yesterday acceded to a court order and gave the Congress of Democrats and Republican Party access to election-related documents estimated to amount to thousands of pages.

A Government warehouse in Windhoek was the scene for the unprecedented handover of documents that should give a fuller account than presently available of last month's National Assembly and Presidential elections process.

Yesterday morning High Court Judge Elton Hoff ordered the Commission to allow the two parties access to the material.

The handover was the first of its sort following a national election in Namibia.

Judge Hoff also ordered the ECN to pay the parties' legal costs for the court application that it took for them to get access to the information that they had claimed the ECN was legally obliged to give to them.

The requested documents mostly emanate from presiding officers who did duty at 1 168 polling stations throughout Namibia on November 15 and 16, as well as from returning officers in the country's 107 constituencies.

CoD Vice President Nora Schimming-Chase's estimate was that the documentation could run to some 6 000 pages.

It is through this mountain of material that CoD and RP representatives will have to wade in their search for indications of the sort of systemic election irregularities that would warrant launching a petition to the High Court to challenge the outcome of the poll.

The parties have until Monday to launch an election petition, which has to be done within 30 days after the announcement of the election results.

Schimming-Chase indicated shortly before the handover yesterday that the parties would compare the election results as they were announced publicly by the ECN on November 21, with results as reflected in documents that election officials sent through to the ECN from the various constituencies.

The court application to be given access to the documents that the two parties launched on Thursday last week has already revealed further conflicting figures from the ECN on the final outcome of the election.

These figures were attached to an affidavit by Elections Director Philemon Kanime, who had opposed the request for access to the documents.

He argued that the Electoral Act required that returning officers, and not he as Director, had to be asked for copies of the documents right after the elections, and not now, a month later.

This was an argument that Judge Hoff seems to have rejected; he is set to give reasons for his ruling only on Tuesday next week.

As it is, during the hearing of their case on Wednesday the two parties and their legal counsel, Theo Frank, SC, professed to be perplexed by differing versions of the final outcome of the National Assembly election that Kanime himself relayed to the court.

For instance, in the results that Kanime announced on November 21, before another 270 votes cast at Namibian diplomatic missions abroad had actually been counted, Swapo received 619 066 votes, CoD 59 454, and the RP 15 973 out of a total of 813 955 valid ballots cast.

In another table of results, where valid votes still numbered 813 955, the CoD's tally was however given as 59 494.

Figures in yet another table of results put the total number of valid votes at 815 637.

In this table of results, Swapo's votes had increased to 620 787, while the CoD's tally decreased to 59 465 and the RP's went down to 15 965.

Frank told Judge Hoff on Wednesday that he had made his calculations, and it was clear that the 270 foreign votes could not have been the cause of these changes in the figures.

He also argued that Kanime had already admitted that a serious irregularity had occurred in the election when he claimed in his affidavit that ballot papers were not required by law to each bear a serial number.

Kanime explained that instead the counterfoil of each ballot paper had a serial number.

This however would be a useless measure according to Frank.

He argued that as long as ballot papers themselves were not numbered, anyone officious enough to do so could stuff ballot boxes with extra ballot papers marked for a certain preferred party and could doctor election returns sent on to the ECN, to ensure that the figures for the number of ballots that were cast, corresponded with the number of ballots actually issued to registered voters.

The counterfoil instead was not supposed to be numbered, in order to ensure that voters' choices on their ballots would be kept secret because it would not be able to trace back the numbered ballot paper to the voter that it was issued to, Frank said.

Ray Goba, the Government lawyer who represented the ECN, dismissed the claims of suspected irregularities in the election as rumours, gossip, hearsay and in some instances as "demonstrably false" on Wednesday.

After any election one could expect two sorts of reaction, Goba commented.

"The winners will be happy, the losers will always be unhappy. That's a fact of life," he shrugged.


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