Windhoek Observer (WO) Political Journalist, Eliaser Ndeyanale, this week spoke to the outgoing Electoral Commission of Namibia’s (ECN) Chief Electoral and Referenda Officer, Professor Paul Isaack (PI), who earned a reputation as an efficient operator who was shrewd enough to stay relatively unscathed at the helm of the election management body.
In the interview, Isaack shares his achievements and challenges and why the new Chief Electoral and Referenda Officer, Theo Mujoro, is the right person for the ECN’s top job.
WO: Looking at your legacy at the ECN, what would you say was your biggest accomplishment there?
PI: I consider two issues as major achievements at the ECN that may contribute towards my legacy. First, the success story of the 2014 Presidential and National Assembly elections and the 2015 Regional Councils and Local Authorities Elections. These successes should be measured against the end results of both elections.
In the 2014 elections, success was characterised by euphoria and excitement and the long winding queues of enthusiastic, but patient voters. It reminded Namibians of the November 1989 watershed United Nations (UN) supervised elections which ushered in Namibia’s independence. As the ECN, we were glad to repeat the 1989 success story.
The elections are historic in the sense that for the first time since 1989, the results were not challenged, unlike in the aftermath of the previous elections.
The elections were also historic in the sense that for the first time, a presidential candidate, Dr Hage Geingob, was elected by almost the entire electorate of Namibia when he won with a historic 86.73 percent of the votes.
We also made use of the Electoral Voting Machines (EVMs) and the end result was captured and best expressed by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Botswana, one of the most democratic institutions in Africa.
They stated in their report that: “It is with great pleasure and a high sense of pride that IEC write to congratulate you [ECN] for a job well done…. Your taking of the bold step to adopt and adapt electronic electoral solutions to your electoral process has filled us with excitement as one of our own in the region, and became the envy of the African continent.”
As the ECN, we are proud in having discharged our constitutional mandate of delivering the 2014 Presidential and National Assembly elections.
We are also proud to be known world-wide as the first country on the African continent to use the EVMs.
The second contributing factor to my legacy is that I am a firm believer and a disciple in democracy that is cemented in free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive, and peaceful elections.
In order to experience democracy, one ought to actively participate to create political structures that are peaceful, conducive, and tolerant. I am proud that my political contribution during my tenure at the ECN was to broaden the word “politics” truly in its original meaning.
In short, to do politics means that all Namibians are “eating democracy” where all are enabled by having access to food, proper and affordable housing, clinics and hospitals, land and clean water.
That’s my legacy. I am glad that God enabled me to be an instrument so that our history was deeply cemented as a democratic nation.
WO: What have you discovered are the challenges in leading the ECN – perhaps it’s different from what you thought before you started – what are the barriers?
PI: According to Article 94B of the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, ECN is an “exclusive body” that directs, supervise, manage and control the conduct of elections and referenda.
In terms of the Electoral Act, 2014 (Act No. 5 of 2014), Section 4, ECN is to be an “independent, transparent and impartial body” that operates “without fear, favour or prejudice” and functions “independent.”
Such constitutional mandate and obligations must be applied also internally in any organisation or body. It must allow safe and protected spaces inside, especially at Commission/Board and Administrative levels, to function and operate without any interference from each other.
If such threats are observable they may be viewed as barriers that ought to be overcome in order to create mutual and conducive working relationships and safe and sound work spaces.
At the same time, such working relationships and safe and protected work spaces ought to be at all Offices, Ministries and Agencies (OMAs) of the Government of the Republic of Namibia.
WO: What are the key considerations to getting through that concrete?
PI: The key considerations to overcome such barriers are the creation of a more positive work environment. That can be done by showing gratitude, trusting working relationships, atmospheres of happiness, constant inspiration and motivation, to celebrate success stories or achievements in the spirit of “Ubuntu” and encouraging positive thinking and to act immediately on each challenge.
WO: Looking toward the future development of ECN, are there things the new Chief Electoral and Referenda Officer should be doing differently or things he can do better?
PI: Namibia has constitutionally committed itself to a multiparty democracy and free elections, which guarantee every eligible voter a free and independent political choice. Since the Constitution commits Namibia to multiparty democracy, elections remain an important exercise in promoting political pluralism and, as such, an essential element in democratization. My take on this matter is that the new Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) must view such constitutional mandate as the alpha and the omega.
WO: Do you think Mr. Theo Mujoro is the right person to head the ECN?
PI: When I joined the ECN in September 2013 my first “advisor” was Mr. Theo Mujoro. At that time, he showed maturity as the Director of Elections. I am therefore convinced that he will be able to demonstrate sufficient maturity and wisdom in his new position.
WO: What is your advice to him?
PI: My advice is short and to the point: Let him always be professional and stand his ground and be able to justify or when necessary, be able to compromise in order to promote the common good of the ECN.
WO: Opposition parties have raised concerns over the usage of EVMs, claiming that the machines are susceptible to vote rigging. Are these claims justified?
PI: According to Afro barometer, a pan-African, independent, non-partisan research network that measures public attitudes on economic, political, and social matters in Africa, Namibia is ranked or placed fifth on the continent in terms of good governance, including on electoral management.
To be precise, out of 54 African countries, our score is 71.2 out of 100. Furthermore, Namibia is one of ten African countries that had a change of leadership since 2007, and on cross-border tensions, Namibia is at peace with its neighbours and got a score of 100.
In other words, Namibia is a country that is walking tall on democracy. The most recent elections were peaceful, fair and credible and recognized by the whole world as such.
The use of EVMs is legal in terms of the Electoral Act 2014, Section 97 that states: “…the Commission may adopt voting by way of voting machines in the manner as may be prescribed…”
At the same time, the request to use alongside the EVMs, the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is justifiable. According to Section 97 (3) and (4), the use of EVMs is subject “to the simultaneous utilization of a verifiable paper trail for every vote cast by a voter, and any vote cast is verified by a count of the paper trail.
“In the event that the results of the voting machines and the results of the paper trail do not accord, the paper trail results are accepted as the election outcome for the polling station or voting thread concerned.”
Today, we are considering when it will be appropriate to make use of the VVPAT. The ECN has not yet pronounced itself on the matter. Once the ECN pronounces itself on the matter, the Minister of Urban and Rural Development shall determine when Section 97 (3) and (4) comes into operation.
WO: Now that you are retiring from ECN, what are your plans?
PI: I am remaining an academic, strategist, and an activist on matters of humanities, democratization, and national development. In short, my term at the ECN comes to an end in August 2018, but my task of life remains unchanged.