EVMs challenged amid by-election joy

Despite delivering landmark victories in Wednesday's by-elections for the opposition and independents, electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be at at the center of a Supreme Court challenge this morning.

17 January 2020 | Politics

The opposition, which now comprises of the new independent candidacy phenomenon, yesterday celebrated by-election victories against Swapo at Walvis Bay and Keetmanshoop on the eve of an application challenging the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the Supreme Court today.

Although independent candidate Panduleni Itula's court challenge against the EVMs is premised on his defeat in the presidential election last November, a ruling in his favour could have far-reaching implications on even this week's by-elections.

Independent candidate Knowledge Ipinge, who supported Itula's presidential bid last year, won the Walvis Bay Urban constituency councillor's election – defeating Swapo candidate Sirie Topulathana and opposition candidates who contested. The Landless People's Movement (LPM), which alleged that last year's election was rigged by Indian hackers through the use of EVMs, celebrated its candidate Maxie Minnaar's election as new councillor for Keetmanshoop Urban constituency, who defeated Swapo and opposition candidates in the race.

Swapo won two of the four by-elections held on Wednesday, prevailing over the opposition in Khomasdal and Gobabis constituency through its candidates Angolo Samuel and Augustinus Tebele respectively.

Although the opposition and independent candidates have opposed the use of EVMs in previous elections, they have rejoiced in the victories of their candidates - attained through the use of the same electronic devices.

While courts are not supposed to be influenced by public opinion or events, those opposition parties who secured seats in parliament may have to answer for their double standards during the Supreme Court challenge against the use of EVMs.

A full bench of the Supreme Court sits today to hear Itula challenging the legality of using EVMs in the November general elections.

Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah yesterday remarked that the opposition and independent candidates cannot have their cake and eat it too – suggesting they should either wholly embrace the use of EVMs or condemn it in totality.

“It's a double standard for the ICs and opposition parties who are readily embracing their own victories through the very same EVMs they are questioning. But it is difficult to predict how those issues will play out in the Supreme Court,” he said.

Political commentator Graham Hopwood also argues that some parties are jumping on the anti-EVM bandwagon without really having evidence of wrongdoing.

“Wednesday we saw how the EVMs can work effectively with the results being announced quickly and with plenty of journalists and election agents at polling stations and collation centres to observe that everything was done transparently. If they seriously have evidence of EVM manipulation, they should bring cases to the electoral court. With election agents having access to the collation centres in November, they should have been able to collect evidence regarding any irregularities,” said Hopwood.

Supreme Court

Meanwhile, opinions are divided on the strength of Itula's challenge, with some saying he must bring more to the table.

Constitutional law expert Nico Horn however believes Itula's case may withstand the test today, but pointed out that it would have no effect on the parliamentary elections.

“Itula claims that the presidential election did not meet the expectations of the Constitution or the Electoral Act, and that subsections 1 to 4 of Art 97 of the said Act should have been enacted together. If he succeeds, the Supreme Court will in all probability declare the November 2019 presidential elections invalid and rule that the presidential electoral process should start over. Should the Supreme Court decide that a new presidential election must be held, it will not affect the present elected National Assembly unless the Supreme Court makes a specific ruling,” said Horn.

Horn also said that if an independent candidate wins a new presidential election, they can invite any member of the NA to serve in their cabinet, but political parties can decide whether they want their candidates to serve in such cabinet.

Hopwood believes Itula's challenge is a tall order.

According to him, it is unlikely that the court will nullify the election outcomes, a big event with huge implications for our democracy, on the basis of hearsay evidence and speculation.

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