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ECN still grapples with operational independence

ECN still grapples with operational independence

Zorena Jantze

THE Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), Elsie Nghikembua, has said that the ECN still faces challenges with regard to its operational independence, although she maintained that there has been no governmental interference in past elections.

Nghikembua made these remarks at the launch of the ECN’s five-year Strategic Plan from 2022 to 2027. “I’m not admitting that the ECN is not independent, there are different models of election management bodies, there are those that are governmental and there are those who are independent in terms of how they are set up as institutions. The Electoral Commission is classified as an agency of government. What we are seeking is the full interpretation and implementation of the intention of the constitution. The constitution states that the Electoral Commission is to be an independent body. If we are an agency of government, it means we have to follow procedures just like any office, ministry or agency,” Nghikembua said.

She however added that despite following these instructions, all the elections run in the country are independent.

independence Chairperson Electoral Commission Namibia Elsie Nghikembua ECN independence elections
ECN: Chairperson of the ECN, Elsie Nghikembua speaking at the launch of the Strategic Plan. Photos: Zorena Jantze

“The government is not involved in the organizing and conducting of elections. All we want is that, when we have an organizational structure, only the commission should have a say. When it comes to financial management, we want to have our own financial management systems and procedures,” Nghikembua said.

In its mitigating actions, the ECN stated that it will facilitate the operationalization of its independence through amendments to the Electoral act.

The ECN’s Strategic plan will be anchored on three key goals namely, delivering a modern electoral system in Namibia guided by a strong legal framework, institutional independence and good cooperative governance practices.

The ECN also stated that the plan will assist in delivering a digitally innovative Electoral Commission of Namibia with secure data systems.

The chairperson of the ECN further noted that the five-year strategic plan comes at a time when the country will be conducting its 2024 General Registration of Voters (GRV) as well as the management and delivery of the 2024 Presidential and National Assembly elections.

Nghikembua added that the ECN has not shelved plans to re-introduce electronic voting, however, stated that this will not be done within this five-year period.

“Until such a time that we are satisfied as a commission that we have a product that is able to deliver credible elections, we are not going to introduce electronic voting. The commission is still investigating possibilities of electronic voting, but for this strategic period, we are going to use ballot papers,” Nghikembua said.

Also speaking at the briefing, Theo Mujoro, the CEO of the ECN, explained that the new strategic actions flow from previous strategic plans and are built from lessons learned from the 2019 – 2020 national and subsequent elections. He added that the plan was also drafted from observer mission reports to improve the ECN’s systems and processes.

Mujoro stated that a major concern has been voter apathy, adding that there has been a decline in voter turnout over the past few elections.

While the participation and engagement of citizens in the Presidential and National elections over the past three decades has been relatively good, the trend of the regional council and local authority elections shows that the voter turnout has waned since 1998 with voter turnout significantly declining below 50% from 81.1% in 1992 to 38.3% and 48.2% in 2020 respectively.

“We need to have an understanding of how 35 000 registered voters sit at home with their voters’ cards, we need to understand the thought processes of the voters and address them,” Mujoro said.

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