Yardstick for Free and Fair Polls Must Be Working All the Way!

IT is gratifying to know that the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) has eventually agreed to extend the deadline for registered political parties and associations to scrutinise the provisional voters’ register until the end of this month.

Initially the political parties had until April 15 to scrutinise the register. That would have been two weeks since the beginning of this month. That the initial two weeks would have been sufficient for the political parties and associations to scrutinise the roll, and do justice to it, let alone convince self that they have done justice to it, is anybody’s guess. But according to the political parties and associations the two weeks would not have been sufficient, hence the extension. But the good thing is that they eventually have until the end of this month to do so. Whether this is still enough time only the political parties, and associations, can know and affirm. But is this a matter that should be left to the political parties alone to judge? Not really, because the matter of elections is not a matter solely for the political parties only. It is indeed a national matter. Thus, when dealing with especially vexed questions regarding and surrounding elections and their administration, and especially the all-important voters roll, not only should ultimate circumspection and immaculacy be exercised but decisions in this regard cannot solely be left to the ECN and its executive arm, the Directorate of Elections, nor the political parties and associations. In fact, the law provides that all registered voters can scrutinise this voters’ roll and make objections when they detect any anomalies in terms of people who are on the register but who are not entitled or qualified under the provisions of the Electoral Act of 1992, Section 13, to be registered as a voter or is not complying with the requirements as provided for by this section.

Be that as it may one cannot but have a g view that such decisions cannot and should not be left to the ECN, its directorate and the political parties or associations. And especially not to the ECN and the directorate alone. In the first place it must be made clear and understood that the ECN, an appointed body that it is – the high integrity of the commissioners notwithstanding – cannot be the final arbiter in such pertinent and sensitive matters such as the voters’ roll. The ECN is just there to provide guidance to the directorate but the final arbiter whether such guidance is well informed and premised is ultimately all stakeholders, and most important the final judges, the voters. In a nutshell it is the broader civil society. Being an appointee, it as yet not clear cut whether the ECN can claim to be an independent and broad-based representative of the broader civic society. That is why when it comes to sensitive decisions pertaining let alone to preparations for the elections, of which the voters’ roll is but one crucial element, if not the most crucial, it must strive at being as open minded, judicious and transparent as it can be and should be.

That is why with the case at hand, that is the voters’ roll, one cannot but wonder how the ECN may have initially only decided on two weeks within which the roll should be scrutinised. Is it because it had decided that only 14 days or even less may have been sufficient for the requisite scrutinisation of the register? And based on what? Only for the political parties to adjudge such days as short? Does it mean the ECN may not have been judicious in the first place in setting the days that it believed may have been sufficient for the scrutinisation of the register? One wonders how long it may have taken the ECN itself to compile the provisional roll only now to expect others to do a job which may have taken itself some time. How fair can that be? Is it because the ECN does not see the importance of the political parties scrutinising the roll. And if the ECN of all peoples and instance cannot and does not see such importance, who can and should?

When we refer to free and fair elections this does not refer to the actual polling, andor conditions close to and after the actual polling, but to many factors, and not least of them the compilation of the voters’ register. We have just emerged from the registration of voters, a process that came to an end last month, and to be followed by supplementary registration later this year. All these processes are as much vital towards the actual polls, and their eventual declaration as free and fair. That is why every facet of the process, and the voters’ registration, and especially its scrutinisation cannot and should not be taken for granted. Because it can have ramifications for the actual polls later this year. It did not have to take the political parties to object to what they perceive as insufficient time in which to scrutinise the register, had the ECN been judicious enough as to what time may have been necessary and sufficient for the political parties and sundry to scrutinise the register. Granted that political parties cannot and should not expect an eternity in which to scrutinise the register but as much if the ECN is working towards its own calendar, such a calendar is as much everyone’s, and if somewhere along the road it delays, other interest groups cannot and should duly be recognised in the event of any delay which may hinge on the calendar. And also the burden of such a delay on its part cannot be wilfully shifted to others. It would be dealing in good faith in this regard for the ECN to carry the blame but granting other role players their due role in a reasonably good time to do justice to this stage of the process. But as much it must be appreciated that the ECN or the directorate has a mammoth and complex task in oiling the polling machinery and getting it in good stead for the actual polling later this year.

Thus they cannot be expected to placate the incapability, incompetence and at time sheer indifference of the political parties. But this responsibility is not the ECN’s or the directorate’s alone but the entire country, if only the ECN realises this and lett the rest in. But it seems despite the deadline extension, the format in which the role is availed for scrutiny remains an issue with the political parties maintaining that the PDF format is not user friendly. Honestly the political parties still need to come clean and clear on what the issue may be excepting perhaps the time factor still. Because obviously only the ECN has the duty towards the whole country that information that the public has provided it remains safe and secure in their hands as the PDF format guarantees. But with hindsight one would have thought political parties are very much the ECN’s trusted stakeholders that it can trust with information that it can relay to them. But that does not seem to be the case if the attitude of the ECN in releasing the roll in a format that the parties think they can do better justice to is anything to go by.

Source : New Era