It is a first, modern to say the least, that voting had to succumb to the drive for technical innovation. That it starts with a scarcely populated country like Namibia is new, but will certainly set a new benchmark, especially in light of the usual accusations of loosing parties and candidates Africa-wide, that the votes were rigged.
Elections in Namibia started the new process slowly with voters standing in long queues from early Friday morning and many polling stations experienced problems with the electronic voting devices. Namibia is the first African country to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) for national and presidential elections. The polls opened on Friday, 28 November, at 07:00, but at many polling stations in the capital, Windhoek, voting could start only 15 to 30 minutes later because of hiccups.
“We have experienced problems with the EVMs and had to call one of our technicians to sort it out, delaying polls by about 30 minutes,” said an election official in the Windhoek East constituency. “There were also some issues with the hand-held devices to verify the voter cards,” he said, but did not provide details. Theo Mujoro, director of operations at the electoral commission, confirmed the problems. “It is not so much technical problems, but operator errors,” Mujoro said. “During voter registration early this year, all 10 fingerprints of each voter were recorded. The hand-held scanning device scans the voter card at polls today and one fingerprint. Some thumb or fingerprints are weak. “Officials were instructed during training to then use the second and third finger and so on for verification. Some of them, however, tried to repeat verifying the thumb of a voter and that caused problems with the hand-held scanner.”
Asked if polling stations would remain open beyond the official closing time of 21:00, Mujoro replied: “Any voter standing in the queue in front of a polling station at 21:00 will be able to still cast his vote, regardless the length of the queue.” The reality was that some voters still cast their votes in the morning hours of Saturday.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba, while casting his vote at a primary school near State House stated: “It is very good to see Namibians practising their democratic right in the most enabling peaceful and stable atmosphere,” he said afterwards. His successor, Prime Minister Hage Geingob, cast his vote in the heart of Katutura, a township on the north-western outskirts of Windhoek, in mid-morning. SWAPO leader Geingob was cheered and applauded by voters in the queue when he arrived and left the Katutura community hall not knowing yet that he had won the elections by a margin wider than expected and beat his challenger for the top-honcho position in Namibia, RDP president Hidipo Hamutenya.
About 1.24 million voters cast their votes in 121 constituencies to elect a new parliament and a new president. While Geingob made the race for president, his ruling party, South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), received two thirds of the votes, defending its majority although loosing almost 9% compared to the elections of 2009.
All in all a good start of election procedures and technology entering the 21st century and a confirmation that the role of the freedom parties in formerly colonially run countries has a longer shelf-life than internationally expected. Vote rigging may be soon something of the past, so may your rule, Mr. Mugabe, get packing, electronic voting is coming……!