• January 23rd, 2019
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On The Spot: ECN plans and preparations for 2014 Elections

Columns, Politics, Features
Columns, Politics, Features

Dr Paul Isack, an academic at the University of Namibia was recently appointed as the Director of Elections for the Electoral Commission of Namibia, and started working at the beginning of this month. New Era's Chief Reporter for Political Affairs, Tonateni Shidhudhu, spoke to him on the plans and preparations of the general elections next year.   New Era (NE): A lot has been said about the operations of ECN concerning the running of elections, with many complaints and various suggestions made. What was the first thing that you started working on as you took over this office?   Paul Isack (PI): The first thing that I did was to assemble my team ‑ both management and staff ‑ to remind ourselves of the mission, vision and the mandate of the ECN as an organisation. It is absolutely important that each one of my team is crystal clear on our mission, vision and mandate. In the second place, now that we are clear on that, we can now focus our attention on the tasks at hand, which is to supervise, control and deliver free and fair elections that are conducted in an impartial and transparent manner that is beyond reproach. What is important is to focus on the constructive option of what ought to be improved through quality elections.   NE: The ruling on the 2009 election result challenge recommended that the ECN put its house in order, to avoid some of the flaws that were detected in the electoral process. How would you make sure that the mistakes that were made in the previous elections would not be repeated?   PI: Firstly, you may recall, the Electoral Act itself was cited as being scattered and in need of consolidation into one coherent electoral law that is easily understood by all stakeholders. This concern is being addressed through the law reform process. Secondly, human errors, as opposed to the electoral processes themselves, were blamed for much of the “irregularities”. By empowering and training our election officials and staff members we shall avoid human errors. Thirdly, the ECN is in the process of introducing new technologies, including biometric data capturing with the Mobile Voter Registration Kit system (MVRK) and the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). It is hoped that most human errors will be eliminated through the introduction of new technologies.   NE: But how confident are you in making sure that previous mistakes would not be repeated?   PI: We are confident that by looking into the past and focus exactly that this issue of human error will not be repeated, therefore we are hoping for these electoral voting machines that will assist us in order to eliminate the factor of human error.   NE. What is the role of the ECN in speeding up the electoral law amendment process and when can the nation expect the tabling of this legislation in Parliament?   PI: Ever since the court challenge and the subsequent court pronouncements, the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) in conjunction with the ECN, has undertaken a nationwide consultation of all stakeholders as part of the Electoral Law Reform Project (ELRP). As we speak, the LRDC is currently finalising the draft bills of the electoral law and we are hoping that we will have a new electoral law in place before the next round of general elections. The ECN has tried its level best to expedite the law reform process, by being involved in that process from the beginning. However, there are certain things in life that cannot be rushed and law reform is one of those things. It is now up to Parliament to debate and pass the laws once the LRDC has finalised the drafting of the Bills.   NE: In many cases, it is the political parties that complain about the work of the ECN; what are your expectations from the political parties while the ECN and the nation at large is preparing for next year's elections?   PI: Firstly, I regard political parties as legitimate organisations in our political structure and representative or electoral democracy. As a matter of fact, all Namibian citizens have the right to form and join political parties and to participate in shaping the political will of the people, propagate and pursue political ideas and socio-economic programmes of a national character. Secondly, the ECN recognizes the fact that political parties are our main stakeholders and without them there will be no elections. The ECN, therefore, expects political parties to get involved in all electoral activities and processes, including the timely passing of the electoral law, in Parliament. After all, it is the function of political parties represented in Parliament to debate and pass laws. Thirdly, my expectations from the political parties and NGOs are to improve relations among all of us by re-building trust and confidence in the electoral process. I, therefore, expect political parties and the NGOs to make sincere and genuine efforts to assist me in achieving this objective.   NE: Since the passing of amendments to the Electoral Act, what has the ECN done to ensure that it meets the deadline as stated in the amendment?   PI: Once the General Registration of Voters (GRV) deadline was extended, the determination of the GRV period became a priority for the ECN. This is quite a challenge than most people realise, as many factors need to be taken into account before one can determine the GRV period. For instance, prominent among those factors is the fact that there is a year-end festive season. The wisdom of holding the GRV during the festive season might result in the credibility of the whole process being called into question. The commencement of the rainy season in Namibia is another factor that could impact logistics and mobility of the transport fleet. It is highly probable that rain water could adversely affect the sensitive equipment of the new technology being deployed. The commission recently met with the Political Parties Liaison Committee to present a proposal on the GRV period and share with parties a tentative schedule on the GRV programme. The ECN is proposing that the next GRV be held over a 41-day period. A requisite submission was made to His Excellency, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, for his consideration and eventual proclamation and in due course we shall announce the dates of the GRV period.   NE: Are there any specific dates set in terms of the commencement of voter education and registration?    PI: As I said, we are waiting for confirmation on the proposed dates, but that does not mean we are not doing anything. The preparation of voter education programmes is at an advanced stage. For example, the tender process for acquisition and production of voter education material, such as video-visual material, has been completed and officials from our Democracy Building Division, which is driving the voter education programmes, will soon be on the ground distributing the voter education materials and also these materials will be translated into various Namibian indigenous languages in order to conduct civic education to the electorate at large. In short, things are rolling.   NE: The 4th Delimitation Commission brought changes in the demarcation of regions and constituencies; what impact does it have on the work of the ECN and does it perhaps put pressure on your work in meeting the deadline?   PI: To a certain extent, yes, the demarcation of regions and constituencies by the 4th Delimitation Commission has an impact on the work of the ECN in the sense that new maps have to be produced. Furthermore, ECN officials have to be sent on the ground to undertake the border clarification of the new regions and constituencies. Also, the new data capturing machines could also not be configured before the new regions and constituencies were known. However, all in all, I would not call it “putting pressure” on our work as such activities were to be expected and anticipated. We have to face the challenges and we shall overcome them one by one.   NE: You are taking over the ECN at a time when it is expected to make use of the Electoral Voting Machines for the first time. How confident are you in the use of EVMs?   PI: The ECN has already started with some preliminary activities in sensitising stakeholders and preparing the electorate for the eventual introduction of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in our elections. For instance, demonstrations are being done at trade fairs and exhibitions across the country to allow opportunities for the electorate to get a feel on the use of the EVMs. It is, however, absolutely important to point out that the ECN alone cannot and should not decide whether the EVMs will be used in the next election. It should be a collective decision by all the stakeholders. Therefore, all stakeholders must be involved in the preparation process and consulted before the EVMs are introduced. This is only a cautionary approach and should not impede the ECN from continuing with mock elections and trials or test the EVM’s in small-scale elections such as by-elections or elections in newly proclaimed local authorities. The Commission will make a final decision on this matter and the nation will be informed forthwith.   NE: What you are saying is that it is not yet clear whether the EVM will be used next year?   PI: What we are saying is that everything is in place; what we are working on at this moment is to build up confidence with all the stakeholders. By Tonateni Shidhudhu
New Era Reporter
2013-09-27 09:34:49 5 years ago

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