/UPDATE*/Namibia: Waiting at the Polls

  • by Servaas van den Bosch (windhoek)
  • Saturday, November 28, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Earlier this week the ECN stripped the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) of this status because it had pointed out mistakes in the voter’s roll, which the ECN maintains are ‘lies’. Mistakes found included instances of: double registration; the registration of voters after the official cut-off date; names being incorrectly struck off; and the registration of voters younger than 18 years.

But on Friday a court ruled that the NSHR had to be admitted as an election observer. The court ruled that the ECN unlawfully withdrew the watchdog’s observer status without conducting a proper hearing. The NSHR’s status was reinstated. But only temporarily.

'The NSHR continues not to comply with the guidelines for election observers, so we decided to suspend them today. Under the Electoral Act this is a different measure than withdrawing accreditation,' ECN chairman Victor Tonchi tells IPS.

'The reasons for our decision haven’t changed; they are the same as before,' says Tonchi. The ECN also accuses the organisation’s director Phil ya Nangoloh of discrediting the electoral body abroad.

Otherwise, Tonchi says the elections ran smoothly. 'We haven’t received any major complaints that could jeopardise the election process.' Tonchi expects results to be in by early next week.

Polling in Namibia will continue till 9pm on November 28. While observers say voting is slow in the Caprivi Strip, packed polling stations are reported in the north. Extra ballots were flown into this area on Saturday morning.

According to analysts the high turnout is related to the power struggle in this area between the ruling South-West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the breakaway movement the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP). Three election officials in Oshakati in the north of the country were arrested for tampering with ballot boxes.

'We have been here since four in the morning, my baby is tired,' says Melisia Shinedhimha (24) on the first day of voting outside the polling station in Okuruyangava, one of Windhoek’s poorest townships.

Shinedhimha and other mothers sit in a circle around their sleeping infants and keep a weary eye on the queue that snakes past the building, through the gate and out onto the street.

At some polling stations people spent the night to make sure they could vote before work. Shinedhimha is lucky though, it only took eight hours of queuing for her to cast her ballot. Others had to wait much longer.

'Sure you can stay at home, but what’s the point? It won’t get you a job. Voting keeps the politicians on their toes and might create employment.'

Yes, she will probably vote for the ruling SWAPO party, she says. But that doesn’t mean everyone should. 'We need a strong opposition, or SWAPO will abuse its power.'

About a million Namibians — half the population — will flock to the 3,259 polling stations on November 27 and 28. Given the size of the country, the vast majority of polling stations are mobile moving from village to village. Helicopters and 4x4’s will bring ballot boxes to areas cut off by rains.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba yesterday asked Namibians for 'calm, peaceful and exemplary conduct,' in the run up to an election that as been more controversial than normal. This is largely because the breakaway party, the RDP, has divided SWAPO’s constituency for the first time.

Across town unemployed Loide Amadhila (33) just voted for the third time in her life. 'SWAPO,' she says with conviction, as she shows the coveted purple stain on her left thumb. 'In 1998 they brought water to this township and in 2001 we got electricity. They put up a clinic and a school and now I hope they will bring many jobs.'

Enok Injala (33) disagrees firmly. 'I will be voting for change, definitely change,' he nods. Also a third time voter, he awaits his turn, at ease in the burning sun. 'It doesn’t look like there will be violence today.'

A shiny Toyota Prado spews out a team of election observers. 'So far so good,' confirms one observer from Nigeria. 'This is the fourth polling station we are visiting and we haven’t seen any irregularities or tensions. For us it is a learning experience, because Nigeria has elections in April 2011.'

Red Cross volunteer Obed Geingob and his mates have their first aid kid at the ready since 7am, but also have little to do. Their biggest concern is the heat, not violence.

'A cut from sealing a ballot box is all the blood that was shed so far,' Geingob grins.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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