Opposition parties are spiting venom about the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) during next month’s general elections, including the absence of a verifiable paper trail and lack of trust in the computerised equipment.
Over a million voters have registered to cast their ballots on November 28 to elect a new president and National Assembly.
Some parties have called on the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to postpone the November polls until the already legislated paper trail provision is complied with.
Other politicians said the ECN should rather concentrate its efforts on winning the trust of the electorate through voter education, while some believe demanding a paper trail at this stage is pointless.
The parties expressed their concerns during a panel discussion on the EVMs organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on Wednesday evening.
They were sceptical of the Indian-manufactured machines, following a court ruling in that country which indicated that the EVMs must be used with a printout that assures the voter that what they have entered has been correctly recorded by the machine.
However, Swapo says it has never rigged elections before and was surprised that opposition politicians are complaining now, while they were part of a tour to India at the time that ECN was flirting with the idea of using EVMs during elections.
ECN Director of Elections Paul Isaak indicated that to date N$61 million was used to purchase 6 800 ballot units and 1 500 control units. They have so far been tested at three by-elections in the country.
Isaak added that technicians from the Indian company, Bharat Electronics Limited, are in the country and political parties can randomly test the machines with their own technicians if they so wish.
Bharat Electronics is a subsidiary of India’s Ministry of Defence.
United Democratic Front’s (UDF) Dudu Murorua said that just like traffic lights at street corners and speed camera evidence used in court, the paper trail will serve the same purpose in the event of a court challenge.
“It must be understood that whether these machines were brought before the Indian Supreme Court, if they do not meet the requirements of the Namibian law, then we need to take them back,” he said.
According, to August Maletzky of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party it is not wise after an election to engage in endless legal battles, like in the past.
Nudo’s Vetaruhe Kandorozu is of the opinion that no proper research was done before the machines were purchased.
“We just jumped into the Indian market, because India supported Namibia during the liberation struggle. That is the last excuse for any wrongdoing. There are a lot of other technologies all over the world. Around the world there are machines that can provide a paper trail. When we move to technology let us move once,” he said.
“As human beings and by virtue of tolerance, we do not have any other choice but to accept.”
DTA’s Nico Smit said the elections can only be free and fair if the paper trail is included.
He added that the absence of a paper trail “makes it open for any party to use this process and the outcome of the Indian Supreme Court as the basis” for a court challenge to the results of the upcoming election.
“It has been decided by the ECN and government to have these elections without the paper trail, and we do have a choice. I can tell you that after these elections we will have a lot of court cases.”
Michael /Nawabeb of the Christian Democratic Voice (CDV) expressed disappointment in the parties that went to India and knew that the machines did not have a paper trail, before they were purchased.
“Whether we want it or not, as stakeholders today, let us go ahead with the process and see how the outcome will look,” /Nawabeb said.
Celeste van Rooi of the United People’s Movement (UPM), Lena Nakatana of the All People’s Party (APP) and Naomi Basson of the Republican Party (RPP), are of the opinion that nothing can be done at this stage and that Namibians should rather embrace the EVMs and move on.
WINDHOEK ELVIS MURARANGANDA