The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) is under pressure from opposition political parties to acquire the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) as stipulated by the law or during this year’s national elections set for November.
A VVPAT is an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
Representatives of some of the political parties that spoke to the Windhoek Observer this week suggested that the electoral body should reintroduce ballot papers if it cannot acquire the paper trail after Chief Electoral Officer, Theo Mujoro, told the Namibian Sun this that it will cost N$160 million to acquire VVPAT functionality for electronic voting machines.
Mujoro told the daily that it will not be possible to acquire the technology before the next general election because the Indian company that provided the EVMs used in the 2014 polls will be busy with the Indian elections later this year.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were introduced in Namibia during the 2014 National Assembly and Presidential elections as an efficient and reliable mode of voting, replacing the paper ballots.
ECN spent over N$60 million in acquiring the machines from India.
Namibia was initially praised for being the first African nation to use EVMs, but the machines were later criticized, especially by opposition parties who were concerned about their reliability because they did not produce a verifiable paper trail.
All People’s Party (APP) Acting Secretary General, Vincent Kanyetu, told the Windhoek Observer on Wednesday that his party will force the ECN to acquire VVPAT or to use the ballot papers.
“ECN can’t decide for us because they are not the owners of the elections. We, the political parties, are the owners of the elections and ECN is there to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Why can’t they introduce ballot papers because I don’t think they would cost N$160 million?” he said.
Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) Secretary General, Mike Kavekotora, said his party will consult with all the opposition parties with the aim to take a common position regarding EVMs.
“SWAPO and the electoral commission are in breach of the law which is very clear that the EVMs must be used with a paper trial....we are going to consult all the political parties so that this time around we can have a common stance on the arrogant attitude by the ruling party and ECN,” Kavekotora told the Windhoek Observer in an interview.
He said he has already put a motion in Parliament where he gave evidence that EVMs are an unreliable system which can be manipulated.
“My recommendation was very specific and unequivocal that we must get rid of EVMs and go back to the ballot papers.
“That motion was discussed and debated in Parliament to the point where that there was a general agreement from all the parties, SWAPO included.
“Even the prime minister said if Namibians are not happy with the EVMs then we can do away with them and that motion was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs to engage stakeholders which involves all the political parties and civil organizations to see what Namibians are saying because the system is so unreliable.
“Even SWAPO itself doesn’t trust the system because they did not use the machines at their elective congress.
“I therefore ask the Parliamentary committee to speed up the process and report to Parliament on time so we can take a stance,” Kavekotora said.
Popular for Democrat Movement (PDM) Treasurer General, Nico Smit, said, “We will discuss this issue and take a stand”.
SWAPO Party spokesperson, Hilma Nikanor, did not respond to questions sent to her despite promising to do so while Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila ignored questions sent to her mobile phone.
Outgoing ECN Commissioner, Barney Karuuombe, this week advised government to invite political parties to discuss VVPAT in the run up to this year’s Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Karuuombe said this when he was being interviewed for the position of an ECN electoral commissioner.
His current term ends in March.
Asked by the Chairperson of the interview panel, Batseba Katjiuongua, what he thinks about the Electoral Act, Karuuombe said the issue of VVPAT should be discussed before elections take place.
“Let that conversation go on up to a point when you have political parties air their views because conflict or tension is often solved through conversation. ECN is a broader civil based organization whatever it does should be in consultation with stakeholders.”