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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Namibians Stare Down Poll Hitches


Thousands of Namibians, some queuing since 04h00, grew increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of voting yesterday as election officials struggled to start up computers or failed to log in with the right passwords.

Still, despite this and other hitches, many people walked long distances, some with umbrellas in hand - and they were prepared to wait hours for their turn to vote.

Voting at most polling stations countrywide was delayed by half an hour as officials struggled to type in passwords.

At other stations party agents failed to turn up on time or the halls were locked and keys missing.

Officials at a polling station in Gibeon started operating the computer some 90 minutes after the doors opened, while voters at a satellite Police station at Otjiwarongo waited patiently for about 45 minutes for the agents of the DTA and the Congress of Democrats to arrive.

At four polling stations at Keetmanshoop, and some at Karasburg and Oranjemund, the "secret markers" were missing on ballot boxes and voting was halted for up to two hours as officials rushed to other polling stations to get the markers.

The Karas Regional Election co-ordinator, Fred Spiegel, said the inspection of the material was only done at the polling venues and it was impossible to detect the error in advance.

Despite the delay, around 660 people had cast their votes by 09h00.

The Namibia Non-governmental Organisations Forum (Nangof) has expressed satisfaction with the voting so far.

"We can report that no major irregularities have been brought to our attention and that the morning has been largely incident free," Nangof said in a statement.

But it said some of its observers were denied access when polling stations opened in the morning.

"The matter was resolved amicably," it said.

The delay with computers resulted in long queues, some of which snaked for up to 200 metres.

At one stage during the morning there were around 500 voters outside the polling station at the Polytechnic of Namibia in Windhoek.

The voters' roll was computerised for the first time this year and polling officers had a tough day as they struggled to log in or search for names.

At one polling station in Windhoek, only the names of voters from the Kunene Region could be accessed.

Director of Elections Phillemon Kanime said some officials failed to use the correct password to access the system but the problem was solved and they expected voting to pick up.

Election officials, however, advanced other reasons such as the number of people who were not election literate and needed help and the fact that some of them had a hard time explaining voting procedures.

Expectations of more people voting could be affected by the sporadic rain that started falling in the capital after lunchtime, preventing some voters from reaching their destinations in time.

Polling officials and observers said there had been no reports of violence or intimidation throughout Namibia.

Until 21h00 today, more than 977 000 people have a chance to vote for Namibia's next president and 72 new members of the National Assembly from nine political parties.

Patronage rather than policy issues are expected to play a key role in the outcome, with the ruling party expected to achieve another landslide victory.

Some observers believe that it is not a question of who will win, but who will become the main opposition following the close contest between the Congress of Democrats and the DTA of Namibia in 1999.

Although the CoD had more votes than the DTA in the last national election, the DTA teamed up with the United Democratic Front to become the official opposition in Parliament.

As workers returned to polling stations after 17h00 yesterday, many expected a late night.

Some prospective voters at polling stations in Katutura even brought food, water and blankets with them, expecting a long and rainy evening in queues.

Others intended to shorten the night:they brought radios and tapes along to occupy themselves.

Those with a good eye for business also cashed in by setting up shop to sell pap, boerewors, meat and drinks.

This article appears in The Namibian


Christof Maletsky

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

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