Consensus averts disastrous Keetmanshoop by-election

Niël Terblanché and Stefanus Nashama

A consensus that was reached between political parties contesting in the Keetmanshoop by-election averted a situation which would have kept voters from electing a new representative on the rural constituency council.

The Karas Regional Coordinator of the SWAPO Party, Mathew Mumbala, said that the consensus was reached in the interest of democracy.

Mumbala said all contesting parties agreed that the Electoral Commission of Namibia’s efforts to re-issue voter cards to people who lost their cards or to those whose documents were destroyed or have become illegible two days before the election would have derailed the process.

“There simply was not enough time left to go through the entire process. We all agreed that in the interest of democracy, the process should be cancelled to avoid any further disruption,” Mumbala said.

The Landless People’s Movement, on their social media pages, celebrated the fact that a consensus could be reached and that the re-issuance of the voter card process was halted.

The continuation of the by-election was threatened by an initial misunderstanding between the various political parties after allegations of attempted voter fraud started flying around on Friday evening.

Allegations surfaced electoral activities were taking place behind closed doors and in the absence of representatives of the various political parties contesting in the election.

Another allegation was made that ECN officials were hiding in a store room in the Keetmanshoop Police Station where sensitive electoral materials and equipment are kept.

The Landless People’s Movement (LPM) Leader, Bernadus Swartbooi said the ECN with assistance of Keetmashoop NamPol issued declarations to 120 additional voters under the pretence of having lost their voters, 48 hours before by-elections, adding that this was done without the knowledge of the relevant stakeholders, except the Swapo Party.

“On the eve of the elections, ECN decided to bring in a situation in which it registers additional voters without the community of Keetmashoop Rural Constituency asking for such to be done,” Swartbooi alleged.

He said the ECN only makes provision for such activities during the supplementary voters registration, which in this case has expired long ago.

The ECN, in a statement issued on Sunday, made it clear that these allegations were devoid of all truth and that officials were busy readying equipment used to replace damaged or lost voter cards.

The electoral body also reiterated that it will go ahead with the planned exercise to provide duplicate voter cards to registered voters in the Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency in accordance with Section 35 of the Electoral Act, Act No 5 of 2014.

Following the disruption of the planned issuance of duplicate voter cards for the Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency by members of some political parties who camped at the town’s police station, the Commission convened an urgent meeting to inform the nation, and particularly the affected political parties and voters to explain the process.

On Saturday, 13th May 2023 the Chief Electoral and Referenda Officer invited all contestants in the Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency by-election to explain the process and provide facts about the alleged irregularities observed before the planned issuance of duplicate voter cards. “Unfortunately, the meeting was disrupted by_ members of certain political parties in attendance and as such this meeting had to be aborted and could not achieve its intended purpose,” the ECN said in its statement.

According to the statement, some party members alleged that ECN officials were seen on Friday night while busy with election activities and in possession of ballot boxes in the absence of political party representatives.

“The Commission would like to state that such allegations are baseless and devoid of any truth. The fact is that the alleged officials were instead assisting the Police officers to carry the equipment prepared for the issuing of duplicate voter cards upon arrival from Windhoek, for storage in the storeroom allocated to the ECN for safekeeping,” the statement reads.

According to the ECN, another falsehood being circulated on various social media platforms was that the body was planning to issue new voter registration cards.

“This is totally untrue. The exercise is only applicable to the issuance of duplicate voter registration cards to already registered voters in the Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency whose voter cards were lost, illegible or destroyed,” the ECN said.

According to the ECN, Section 35 of the Electoral Act, Act 5 of 2014 provides that a registered voter may apply for the replacement of his or her voter registration card if the card is lost, destroyed, or for any reason becomes illegible, but a duplicate voter registration card may not be issued on any day determined as a polling day in respect of any election concerned.

It is for this sole reason that ECN made arrangements to be able to issue duplicate voters’ cards in the Constituency on the 13th and 14th of May 2023. Moreover, the exercise to issue duplicate voter cards is not unique to the Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency by-election but rather a normal exercise that has been conducted prior to almost all previous polling processes,” the ECN stated.

The ECN statement made it clear that, in the interest of voters, the issuance of duplicate voter registration cards will continue as planned in order to afford an opportunity for people who need such cards to obtain them.

“In this regard, the requisite materials and equipment were deployed on Sunday and the issuance process proceeded at the Keetmanshoop ECN Voter Education Office, Aroab Constituency Office, and Koes Community Hall,” the statement reads.

The ECN urged political parties to adhere to the code of conduct in order to allow a smooth election process that is still on course to continue today.

Meanwhile, PDM Secretary for Organisation and Mobilisation in the Karas Region, Benson Katjirijova said the allegations were clarified by ECN that it was not the ballot papers’ boxes but materials for duplication of the voters cards.

“Yes, we received that sensitive information (allegations) but we clarified that today with ECN. The issue was only about the information that came to us, that ECN was going to register voters cards for those who lost their voters cards. This is why oppositions were not agreeing with ECN, but it is made clear now, he added, “he concluded.

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