By Magreth Nunuhe
Windhoek – The outgoing chief officer of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), Professor Paul John Isaak has hailed the way Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries have conducted their elections during the five years he was at the helm of the commission. He said the elections in countries where he participated as an observer were generally very peaceful.
Isaak observed elections in Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Angola, Tanzania and Mauritius in the SADC region.
“Elections were very peaceful in all the countries I have attended – no violence or elections coming to a standstill,” he said.
Outside of SADC, Isaak has also travelled to Kenya and Uganda in East Africa to observe elections, as well as Ghana in West Africa.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The ECN plans to be part of the DRC elections slated for December, but political instability persists in that country and it could be one of the most challenging tasks for SADC and its observers.
While political transformation in many SADC countries has inspired hope of democratic governance throughout Southern Africa, the DRC is confronted with worrying signs of protracted violence amid pressure for President Joseph Kabila to step down.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has announced 23 December 2018, as the likely date for the delayed presidential, legislative, regional and local elections.
CENI anticipates a new president to take office by 12 January 2019.
Repeated election delays brewed frustrations and protests, which led to deadly counteraction by military forces that saw dozens of people killed in 2016 in protests against Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his term.
The opposition sees the continued election delays as Kabila’s plot to hold onto power, while repressing protests and violating human rights of the citizens.
Parts of the country are in the hands of insurgents, who say they will not stop fighting while he remains in power.
Kabila succeeded his father Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001.
“DRC will be one of the major challenges because of the complexities of that situation,” said Isaak, adding that the complexities will also be in how to travel from one place to another, while communication will be another challenge.
On Zimbabwe, Isaak said the elections of that country, which were held on 30 July, were very significant as, for some, an entire generation would witness a new leader take over since independence in 1980.
“Since 1980, Zimbabwe has only had one leader. The majority will welcome that,” he enthused.
However, Zimbabwe’s elections were also not without woes, as six civilians were declared dead amid post-election protests and accusations of election rigging by the opposition.
Protesters, mainly believed to be MDC-Alliance sympathisers clashed with army forces on the streets of Harare.
The ruling party, Zanu-PF won 145 parliamentary seats, while MDC-A took 63.
The remaining two seats went to the National Patriotic Front (NPF) and an independent candidate.
Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of the presidential election by 50.8% votes, against 44.3% for his main rival Nelson Chamisa (MDC-A).
Last year, saw unexpected political transition in Zimbabwe when long-serving president Robert Mugabe stepped down after a 37-year reign amid pressure from the military and impending parliamentary impeachment.
Mnangagwa was installed as interim President on 24 November 2017 to serve out the remaining term of Mugabe, which was to end in August 2018.
Mnangagwa, a former ally of embattled Mugabe, was a senior member of the ruling ZANU–PF party and served as Vice President of Zimbabwe from 2014 until his dismissal in November 2017, which prompted a military intervention.
It remains to be seen if the outcome of the recent elections could be what Zimbabwe needs to attract foreign investment and strengthen the country’s battered economy, which has been in a downward spiral for a long time.
The Kingdom of eSwatini
Although many SADC countries have adopted regular multiparty elections, there is some consensus that liberal democracy must blend in with African cultural practices and traditions as is the case with eSwatini, the last absolute monarch in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Elections are scheduled to take place sometime this year in eSwatini, but King Mswati III is yet to set the date for the polls.
Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and only Mswati’s subjects are allowed to pick 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly; the other 10 are appointed by the King.
None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.
The King also chooses senior civil servants and top judges.
Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza II, suspended the country’s constitution in 1968, which gave absolute power to the monarchy and banned organised political opposition to royal rule.
The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known opposition group in the kingdom, along with other groups that advocate for democracy in the kingdom, are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
The Parliament of Swaziland (or Libandla) is bicameral, consisting of a lower chamber (the House of Assembly) and an upper one (the Senate).
Some of the members of both chambers are elected, while the rest are appointed by the King o.
Historic transitional elections in SADC in 2017
Commendable changes have also been made by some SADC states towards democratic governance in 2017 in response to internal popular pressure and backing from the international community.
These changes have had fundamental alterations resulting in historic transitional elections.
Lesotho held elections on 3 June 2017, which saw Lesotho's main opposition leader, Thomas Thabane elected as the Prime Minister.
Thabane’s All Basotho Convention won 48 parliamentary seats while his rival, former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, only secured 30 seats. Mosisili was ousted after a successful no-confidence vote bid. A coalition government is under way.
After 38 years in power, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down in 2017 and was succeeded by João Lourenço, the former defence minister. The People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won the parliamentary elections with 61.1% (150 of 220 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly) of the votes against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola’s (UNITA) 2.7%.
The MPLA and UNITA fought on opposing sides in a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. Lourenço is now Angola’s third president.
Elective congresses in Namibia and South Africa in 2017
Both South Africa and Namibia’s ruling parties, the African National Congress (ANC) and SWAPO held elective congresses before the end of 2017. SWAPO, which has maintained political dominance since coming to power in 1990 at independence, elected incumbent country’s President Hage Geingob as the party’s president, while the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa was chosen as that party’s president.
With no meaningful opposition in sight, Geingob is most likely to become Head of State for the next five years after his first term ends in 2019.
In contrast, ANC’s support base has weakened, which could see Ramaphosa tussle it out against a solidifying opposition.
In the 2016 local government elections, the ANC garnered only 54% of the vote - a spectacle that should have the ruling party worried as only 16 months remain for the next general elections.
Namibia’s electronic voting machines
Namibia was the first African nation to use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in its 2014 national and presidential elections.
But the EVMs were heavily criticised, especially by opposition parties, regarding their reliability because the machines do not produce a verifiable paper trail.
However, Isaak is adamant that there is nothing wrong with the use of the machines, as they are accurate and cannot be tempered with.
“It is a stand-alone device and it is not computerised,” said Isaak, adding that the machines are more accurate than the physical counting of ballot papers.
The EVM coupled with a voter registration kit is an advanced biometric information system that produces an identification document type voter cards which contain a variety of security features and uses biometric aspects to capture data for each person at the registration venue, which includes fingerprints, a photo and personal information in text format.
According to Isaak, what the opposition parties really moan about is that with the ballot paper system, once you mark your cross against the party or candidate of your choice and place it in the ballot box, you know that your vote has been cast.
However, with the EVM, once you have pressed the buttons for voting, you only hear a beep sound confirming that your vote has been cast, but it does not give the voter the “mental assurance” that the vote has been cast.
Isaak said the opposition complains of not being sure whether their vote has been recorded once they have pressed the buttons, unlike the ballot paper where they see how the ballot paper goes into the ballot box.
Isaak argued that the EVM gives voters a few seconds’ assurance, as their votes are displayed on the machine to show whom they voted for.
He added that it was because of not touching the “ballot paper” that the critics have a problem with.
The electoral chief said that the EVMs can produce a paper trail in the case of a court dispute, however, he acknowledged that the paper trail issue was a challenge and a concern for Namibia as it is the right of every citizen to get satisfaction out of their vote.
“We are seriously addressing this. We are exploring manufacturers to see what we can do,” he maintained.
Asked whether there was a possibility of going to back to the old conventional system of the ballot system, Isaak said that they will first have to consult with political parties to discuss the issue of EVMs and the way forward.