Electoral Law Reforms Under Scrutiny

The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) is not impressed with lawmakers scrambling to amend the electoral law only during an election year.

“For those of us who are believers in democracy and governance I must admit that changing laws in an election year is not the right thing to do. We must remember elections are a multi-stakeholder process,” said ECN Commissioner Barney Karuuombe during a panel discussion.

He was answering questions during the public discussion held in Windhoek on Tuesday night on electoral integrity in Africa, which was jointly hosted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Nangof Trust.

Namibian lawmakers have come under immense criticism in recent months for only running about to have the electoral amended at this late stage, with the national elections only a few months away. Critics fear this may not give lawmakers enough time to consult all stakeholders sufficiently.

Karuuombe shifted the blame onto parliamentarians and the Law Reform and Development Commission, which is responsible for the amendments.

“Our mandate starts and ends with the management and administration of the electoral process. The other things are for the Law Reform and Development Commission and parliament, we cannot dictate to them when these things [law reform] should be done, but I must say we remain equally concerned about that as we believe there should be good timing for the final electoral law to be availed for everybody to assess it,” said Karuuombe.

Meanwhile, the Law Reform and Development Commission’s Chairperson Sackey Shanghala is optimistic the Constitutional Amendment Bill on the electoral law would be passed before the elections take place in November.

He indicated that the commission would submit a final report on the draft bill to the Minister of Justice, Utoni Nujoma, who would then present it to parliament at his own discretion.

Asked why the ECN refuses to provide the voters’ register to its stakeholders in an analyzable format, Karuuombe said: “As far as I can recall the law only requires us to provide a copy of the voters’ register, which we have done. Most of us who followed the trajectory of elections of electoral processes in the country know of what is known as the manipulation of registers.

“Hence we decided to provide the voters’ register to stakeholders in PDF format,” he said.

Karuuombe added that the ECN was hopeful the amended electoral law would take care of the public’s concerns.

Former Zimbabwean minister of education David Coltart who was one of the panellists during the discussion underscored the importance of the provision of a voters’ register that can be fully scrutinized by political parties and other stakeholders. At the same time he stressed, “The voters’ roll is vital in ensuring poll integrity.”

Coltart’s remarks come at a time when Namibian opposition parties continue to decry the format in which the voters’ register, which they say cannot be fully scrutinized, has been provided for inspection and objection, the period for which ended last month.

“It is difficult to audit a voters’ register if it is not provided in an analyzable and searchable format. Given the cry of one person one vote, this should be a fundamental right accorded to all people and parties,” stressed Coltart.

Coltart said concerns the voters’ register could be manipulated if availed in a fully searchable format are misplaced because the ECN would be in possession of the master copy.

“If the voters’ roll is provided in PDF format, one cannot use search engines or interrogate the roll sufficiently,” he said.

Source : New Era