November 29, 2009 / 8:35 AM / in 9 years

Parties complain of irregularities in Namibia vote

WINDHOEK (Reuters) - Four Namibian opposition parties including the main challenger to ruling SWAPO complained on Sunday of voting irregularities in the country’s two-day presidential and parliamentary elections.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba and the South West African People's Organization have faced a strong challenge from the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), which emerged as a breakaway faction of SWAPO in 2007.

First results were expected to be known about midday, with President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) forecast to win a fourth five-year term, but by mid-afternoon no numbers had been reported.

The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), seen becoming the official opposition, said some ballot papers lacked an identification stamp, making them invalid, and the ink identifying voters was removable in some cases, allowing people to vote twice. The voters roll was also contested.

“There are a lot of people who have been deprived of their right to cast their votes by the recklessness of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN),” Jesaya Nyamu, secretary-general of the RDP, told Reuters.

Three other parties, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, the Republican Party of Namibia and the South West Africa National Union also raised concerns about irregularities and SWAPO’s youth league asked the ECN to investigate.

“The process is going to be credible because there are observers here but the irregularities still need to be addressed. SWAPO will win, but we want to win credibly,” youth league leader Elijah Ngurare told Reuters.

The ECN did not say whether the matter would be addressed.

“The politics are over, let’s count the votes now,” ECN director Moses Ndjarakana said.

Counting began after the more than 3,000 polls closed at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Saturday and the ECN said final results might not be available until Wednesday. About 1.18 million people are registered to vote.

POVERTY, UNEMPLOYMENT

Lying between economic powerhouse South Africa and oil-producing Angola, resource-rich Namibia has enjoyed a long period of political and economic prosperity that has made its 2.2 million people the envy of many in Africa.

It is an important diamond exporter and is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s uranium output.

However, the campaign was dominated by unemployment, poverty and the lack of improvement in health, education and sanitation services, aggravated by the global economic downturn.

The economy is expected to contract by 0.6 percent in 2009, before recovering in 2010 when commodity prices and mining output are expected to rise.

Opposition parties and voters alike said they supported SWAPO’s programmes, but that implementation has been very slow.

Pohamba and SWAPO have faced a strong challenge from the RDP, which broke away from SWAPO in 2007 and is expected to try to ensure government transparency and accountability.

Nico Horn, a law professor at the University of Namibia, said that the operational hiccups should not affect the result and said SWAPO was heading for a clear win.

“There is no doubt that SWAPO will get a good majority ... the only possibility is that the opposition will break the two-thirds majority,” he said.

SWAPO has held the two-thirds majority, which enables it to alter the constitution, since 1995.

“We need a strong opposition ... it’s the only way to ensure that the government is transparent and accountable,” Horn said.

In the past, Namibia’s political scene has been dominated by smaller opposition parties which failed to shake the hold of the guerrilla movement that led the country to independence in 1990.

The ECN said that for the first time votes would be counted at the polling stations and results would be posted locally to ensure transparency and curtail any election rigging, as alleged by opposition parties in 2004. A recount of the votes then confirmed SWAPO as the winner, with 55 of the 72 seats.

Fourteen parties were contesting the election this year and 12 presidential candidates were listed.

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