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Election bill likely to become law after Oct 13

Namibia's Electoral Bill, which has been passed by Parliament, is likely to become a fully-fledged law after October 13 this year - just a few weeks before the national election scheduled for November 28. The election date is due to be confirmed in the Government Gazette on Monday October 13 in terms of the old 1992 Electoral Act. After the date has been confirmed it is expected that the new Electoral Act will come into force and the 1992 Act will be formally repealed. Although the new Electoral Bill does incorporate significant changes such as envisaging only one day for voting - many of the clauses dealing with the conduct of elections remain the similar to the old law. This should make the implementation of a new law just a five weeks before an election is due slightly less problematic for the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN).
The main concern regarding the upcoming elections centres on the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs). The new Bill says EVMs must be "subject to the simultaneous utilisation of a verifiable paper trail for every vote cast by a voter" (Section 97 (3)). In practice this means that a slip indicating the choice of each voter is printed as a back-up in case of a dispute over the results produced by EVMs. In India such a slip is displayed to the voter for seven seconds before it drops into a container from where it can be retrieved and counted later if necessary. The reality is that the EVMs purchased by the ECN from India do not have the option of printing such a slip indicating the choice of the voter. As a result, it seems likely that when the Electoral Bill becomes a fully-fledged law some time later this month, Section 97 (3&4) will not come into force. The Minister of Justice has the option to delay the implementation of some sections of the law (Section 209 (2)). This means that the election expected to take place on November 28 will not be held to the standard envisaged in the new law. Already, the issue of a voter verified paper trail (VVPT) has become a bone of contention with some parties saying it is a pre-requisite for these elections. In order to ensure the November elections are both credible and free from administrative problems, it is important that the parties and other stakeholders sit down with the ECN and agree a way forward. It may be that the EVMs we have are still reliable without a VVPT - but it has become clear that various parties and not least the public need to be given assurances regarding this.

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Election Watch is a project of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Windhoek, Namibia. Election Watch is funded by the European Union and the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives.