Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani says his party doesn’t trust the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to run a credible poll using the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the absence of a voter-verified paper audit trail.
Speaking to the Windhoek Observer on Thursday, Venaani said he was part of a delegation of political leaders who went to India when government decided to buy the voting machines a few years back.
He said the agreement was that the machines would have a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) mechanism attached, but that agreement was never fulfilled.
“We were told that ‘we are testing them now and later on we will get VVPAT’. But Indian courts even ruled in 2013 that it is a must that all EVMs [they use] must have the VVPAT,” Venaani said.
He said the issue of a voter-verified paper audit trail was non-negotiable.
“It becomes a fundamental issue – do we want to have free, fair and credible elections or do we want a frivolous election where the ‘victors’ can declare themselves winners through frivolous manners,” Venaani said.
“We must be very objective when we address this issue. I believe in credible winning and credible losing. The ruling party itself during its own congress refused to use the EVMs. Why? If the argument is that they do not want to go back to the Stone Age and use the old paper ballot system. If they claim they are moving with the times, why are they not using those EVMs? Even the SPYL did not use them in their internal elections. Why forcing these EVMs to be used in the country when the ruling party itself does not want to use them?”
The official opposition leader also said that his party was not against the use of EVMs per se, but is only insisting that the EVMs must have the VVPAT attachment.
“We are saying where is the attachment that is supposed to be there? We are being told, no…the Indian company could not add the VVPAT because India was having an internal election and they could not provide them for us. But, is that the only company in the world to provide that attachment?”
The youthful politician further accused ECN of not playing by the rules and not following the ethos of a free and fair election as no political parties are allowed to be part of the last tallying center in the collation center where the final results emerge.
“We are saying the law is very clear. The law says that all political parties have the right to observe the full process from the beginning until the very end. We are the only country that does not allow party representatives to be in the collation center. Do you know who is in the collation centre? SWAPO, Intelligence officers and the ECN.
“When the chairperson of the ECN was approached about allowing parties to be part of the collation centers she said, ‘You must trust us’. But we do not trust them. Period! Why should we?
“Why are we not allowed to monitor those activities? We are not going to do anything, but observe how results are being collated in that final tallying centre. So we are demanding that. Any election must have value.”
He said he rebuffs the notion by President Hage Geingob that political parties are complaining because they are going to lose and they are just making excuses.
In an interview with The Namibian on Wednesday at State House, Geingob said opposition parties should stop crying foul and blaming the electoral process when defeated in democratic elections.
“I want to tell him [Geingob] that he must not use the Mugabe syndrome to want to win through frivolous means. Anyone who wins must win fairly, anyone who loses, must know the process is fair and accept the results. The ECN must come to the party and look for international support to put the VVPAT on the machines so that the process is credible,” Venaani said.
“Even the DRC had VVPAT! Namibia is the trendsetter for EVMs in national elections in the SADC region and others are following us and yet, a country that started this trend of having EVMs has substandard machines.”
He said PDM has been advocating for the use of VVPAT for several years and are not just saying it now or saying it only because they are afraid of losing the November Presidential and National Assembly elections.
“We have been moving motions on this several years back. So the ECN cannot say that political parties are only worried about losing elections. We are very confident about this upcoming election. In fact, we are no longer talking about going into this election to increase our number of seats.
“We see the chances of breaking the two thirds majority [in Parliament] already. We see the chances of being in office if we play by our game and succeed in our fundraising activities in Namibia and around the world,” said Venaani.
ECN Chief Electoral and Referenda Officer, Theo Mujoro, recently told the Windhoek Observer that the ECN does not see itself making use of ballot papers in the November Presidential and National Assembly elections despite objections by opposition parties over the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) without a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail.
Asked why the ECN cannot simply go back to the use of ballot boxes until such a time that it is able to purchase or use the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail Technology, Mujoro explained that there were a number of reasons why such a proposition would not be feasible.
“We all need to understand that there were reasons why we decided to migrate from ballot papers to electronic voting machines. There were experiences that informed that decision back in 2009. Issues associated with handling ballot papers and issues of spoiled ballots.
“We had serious issues in terms of administering that process. We also had something called a tendered voting system. You know in Namibia, during the presidential elections you can vote anywhere you find yourself on the day of polling, but what used to happen during the years of ballot papers ….is that by the day of polling, close to 60 percent of the population will not be where they are registered as voters.
“Now when you are running elections using ballot papers, what you do when this person presents themselves at some village where they are, you give them a ballot paper, you take them through the process and they vote.
“That ballot paper you will not throw it in the ballot box, you put it in an envelope and all these envelops of persons who cast their votes in constituencies where they are not registered must be repatriated to where these people are registered so that their vote is allocated to whichever party or candidate they voted for. It was a mess.