November 25, 2019 / 11:30 AM / 17 days ago

Namibian court throws out case against voting machines

WINDHOEK (Reuters) - A Namibian court dismissed a case on Monday aimed at preventing the use of electronic voting machines in its presidential election, which opponents of President Hage Geingob fear could be used to rig the result.

Namibia's President Hage Geingob attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Russia–Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia October 23, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS

Namibians will elect a president on Wednesday, with Geingob expected to be win with a reduced margin owing to voter anger over the worst economic crisis since independence from apartheid South Africa three decades ago.

The use of voting machines has been controversial both within and outside Africa. Critics say they make it easier to fiddle the result than traditional pen and paper ballots.

However, Magistrate Uaatjo Uanivi ruled that the tribunal has no jurisdiction to forbid the electoral commission from using them.

Opposition leader McHenry Venaani told reporters he was disappointed with the ruling.

“EVMs (electronic voting machines) in their current form do not address the question of transparency of the vote and I thought the court would put more effort into addressing (that) ... question,” he said.

In Congo, opposition candidates credited the use of such machines with enabling alleged fraud in the election that brought President Felix Tshisekedi to power last December.

In that election, the machines were produced by South Korean company Miru Systems. Namibia’s voting machines were supplied by majority state-owned Indian company Bharat Electronics. Their use in Indian elections has also been controversial.

Among the nine challengers hoping to capitalise on this are a member of his own SWAPO party, dentist Panduleni Itula, who is running as an independent. The southern African country will also elect 96 members of parliament.

A faltering economy, one of the worst droughts in living memory and the biggest corruption scandal in Namibia’s history have dented President Geingob’s popularity among its 1.3 million registered voters.

A scandal over bribery claims concerning an Icelandic fishing firm caused Justice Minister Sackeus Shanghala and Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Bernhard Esau to resign after media reports they had awarded horse mackerel quotas to Iceland’s biggest fishing firm Samherji in exchange for bribes.

Namibia uses a majority system for presidential elections, in which the candidate with more than 50% of votes is declared the winner.

Regional and international observers have largely declared Namibia’s past elections as fair and credible, although the use of voting machines may test whether they can stay that way.

Writing by Tim Cocks, editing by Ed Osmond

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