Namibia: Presidential and National Assembly Elections 1999

Extracted from: "Namibia" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 267-269.

Namibia's third presidential and national assembly elections were held over two days, November 30 -I December 1999. The elections were preceded by a special 'supplementary registration' process which brought the electoral population up from 738 000 to 878 000. The total seemed disproportionately high given informed total population estimates. A UNDP estimate for the Namibian voting population of 883 000, if valid, would bring the proportion registered to unlikely 99%. The roll is believed to include numbers of dead people, emigrants, and people whose names have mistakenly been entered twice. Opposition parties expressed concerns over the large number of people (30% of new voters) who for registration purposes had to be identified through sworn statements.

Registration was encouraged by the commission through an extensive effort to mobilise voters by posters, leaflets and newspaper supplements between August and November. As well as voter education initiatives by the commission, the Namibian Society of Human Rights published a free handbook, 'You and your representatives'. The Forum for the Future, with support from the British High Commission, undertook an overview, in leaflet form, of party programmes entitled 'What do they say'. In general, though, less voter education was undertaken then in 1994.

On 2 November, the National Assembly was recalled to amend the Electoral Act to allow tendered votes to be counted in the regions in which they were cast rather than requiring them to be transported to Windhoek, as in 1994, a requirements which had been responsible for the administrative errors which gave rise to the DTA's [Democratic Turnhalle Alliance's] objections and court proceedings. Meanwhile, the commission decided that voting stations would not be supplied with copies of the roll; instead station officers would depend on voters' identification cards to distinguish between tendered and ordinary ballots; voters would sign or mark their cards, as in earlier elections, to prevent them from voting twice. Opposition parties expressed unhappiness about the commission's decision to accept the tender for the printing of ballot papers from a SWAPO-owned company, though the bid was more commercially attractive than its rivals and the same company had printed the ballot papers for the previous year's polls. A new party, the Congress of Democrats, protested about the principles through which the allocation of free broadcast time was determined. Given its bias in favour of parties with parliamentary representation, the COD would only receive the minimum number of slots. COD also contended that the distribution of public funds between parties was unfair and this money, of course, was available only to parliamentary parties. Of this funding, SWAPO received N$5.8 million, the DTA received N$1.8 million, the UDF N$225 000, the MAG N$75 000 and the DCN N$69 335. For most parties, this government money was their most important source of finance. No parties received foreign donations.

As in the previous general elections, strict list system representation was to prevail; constituencies had only administrative and ballot verification significance. On nomination day, 25 October, four parties submitted nominations for the presidency: SWAPO (Sam Nujoma), the COD (Ben illenga), the DTA (Katuutire Kaura) and the UDF (Justis Garoeb). In addition to these, four other parties submitted parliamentary lists: FCN, SWANU, DCN and MAG. SWANU, a historic rival of SWAPO and in fact Namibia's first liberation movement, included in its list members of the Workers' Revolutionary Party. The really new force in Namibian electioneering was the Congress of Democrats, formed in March 1999, six moths after the resignation of its founder, Ben Ulenga from his position as Namibian High Commssioner in London. Ulenga had been a senior SWAPO leader and his status together with rumours of other impending defections from SWAPO suggested to observers that COD might obtain support in SWAPO's stronghold, the Ovambo-speaking areas of northern Namibia.

In contrast to campaigning in 1989 and 1994, the run-up to polling day was characterised by a relatively high number of complaints about activist behaviour. Complaints about violations of the code of conduct mainly concerned the disruption of rallies by supporters of rival parties as well as intimidation of COD supporters in the Ovambo regions. Though the Electoral Commission stated that there had been a drop in the number of officially submitted complaints, reports in the press of code violations increased after 9 November, provoking sharp criticism from European Union observers. On the other hand, campaigning in Caprivi appeared to have been conducted in a generally civil fashion, a commendable achivements keeping in mind the events surrounding the secessionist revolt. Observers from the EU and the SADC found a relaxed at atmosphere between competing party activists in Caprivi. In general the reports of intimidation were geographically concentrated in those areas in which COD was attempting to build a following in historical SWAPO 'bases'.

By contrast, polling proceedings appeared to be well governed. In general voting stations opened on schedule though inevitably the staff running mobile stations encountered difficulties in keeping to their programmes. Because of the absence of registers at stations, voter identification procedures at stations had to be elaborate and in general were well administered, though there were several reports of stations which did not have E23 forms, the forms on which tendered voters needed to be listed. Only one station was reported in newspapers to have run out of ballot papers during polling. Voters who needed to be identified through affidavits occasionally encountered rather strict interpretations of the rules on how this should be done but this itself was indicative of the tight precautions which were exercised against multiple voting. Agents from several parties were present at most stations though many of these seemed under-prepared and many did not wear any identification insignia. The most serious reservation expressed by observers concerned the routines which were followed when elderly, infirm, or handicapped voters needed assistance; too often this was offered in a fashion which violated ballot secrecy. Clearly more precise regulations are needed to govern this process.

Observer reports suggest that the quality of counting arrangements was uneven, particularly with respect to the recording of tendered votes. The COD, after the elections, held a press conference to complain about the politically partisan behaviour of counting station officials, the presence of unaccredited people at counting stations, and the 'yo-yo-ing' of returns from the same polling stations signed by the same returning officer, differing each time. COD published a detailed memorandum concerning its complaints about counting at eight stations, mostly concerning the behaviour of SWAPO officials (who sometimes, COD alleged, participated in counting) and the management of the tendered votes. However, COD's leadership did not contest any of the results through litigation.

Announcement of the final results was completed on 6 December - the delays were largely attributable to the recording, verification and assignment to their correct constituencies of tendered votes. The process would have been considerably lengthier had it not been for the investment by the commission in a technically sophisticated results centre in Windhoek, modeled on the system used by South Africa, and established with the help of the South African Independent Electoral Commission.

536 036 Namibians voted in the 1999 elections, an absolute increase of 40 000, but a decline as a proportion of the registered electorate (from 76% to 62%). However, as noted above, the registration total used in 1999 is probably too high. One fifth of the votes were through tendered ballots.

SWAPO won the presidential election with a massive majority - Sam Nujoma received the endorsement of 77% of the electorate (see 1999 Election Presidential results for more detail). Both Katuutire Kaura (DTA) and Ben Ulenga (COD) obtained ten percent of the poll while three percent of the voted were accorded to the UDF's Justus Garoeb.

The parliamentary votes were very comparable: SWAPO obtained 76% of the vote; the COD, 10%, the DTA, 9%, the UDF, 3%, and the MAG, 1% (see 1999 Election National Assembly results for more detail). The other parties received less than one percent each and failed to win representation.

Less than one percent of ballot papers were spoilt, a low figure and largely a consequence of the ready availability of assistance to voters at stations.

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