Parties complain of irregularities in Namibia vote

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Frustration over a lack of results from Namibia’s presidential and parliamentary elections mounted last night, with several opposition parties complaining of irregularities.


 
Party representatives held a meeting with the head of the electoral commission in the southern African country late yesterday to voice their concerns at the delay in announcing results, more than 24 hours after polls closed.
 
But none of their questions were answered, said Republican Party (RP) president Henk Mudge. He said ballot papers had allegedly been moved from polling hubs without being counted and results had not been published outside as prescribed by law.
 
"We are moving into a direction that can have very serious consequences if it means that we will have to go to court, we will do that," he told reporters.
 
Moses Ndjarakana, director of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN), did not say whether or how the complaints would be addressed. "The politics are over, let’s count the votes now," he said.
 
Mudge’s concerns echoed allegations of voting discrepancies raised earlier by his and other three opposition parties: the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), the main challenger to the ruling SWAPO; the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance; and the South West Africa National Union (SWANU).
 
The parties 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.
 
President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his SWAPO are forecast to win a fourth five-year term but have faced a strong challenge from the RDP, which broke away from SWAPO in 2007.
 
Poverty and 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% of the world’s uranium output.
 
However, the campaign was dominated by unemployment, poverty and a lack of improvement in health, education and sanitation services, aggravated by the global economic downturn.
 
The economy is expected to contract by 0.6% 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 had been very slow.
 
Nico Horn, a law professor at the University of Namibia, said he still did not expect the operational hiccups to affect the result and said SWAPO was heading for a clear win, with RDP likely to emerge as a strong new official opposition.
 
"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 a 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 fragmented, with smaller opposition parties failing to shake the hold of SWAPO, the guerrilla movement that led the country to independence in 1990.
 
Fourteen parties were contesting the election this year and 12 presidential candidates were listed.