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Complain in writing – ECN

The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) has defended its decision to shortlist Swapo think tank member Michael Tjivikua for its top job, saying those who are complaining should do so formally in writing.

Two weeks ago, the ECN announced five people shortlisted for the electoral body’s chief executive and referenda officer position.

Including Tjivikua, they are Petrus Shaama – the director of operations, Helmuth Naweseb – a legal officer in the Office of the President, and former academic Vincent Sazita, as well as Oscar Muyatwa – director in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Responding to questions sent to the ECN, chairperson Elsie Nghikembua on Sunday said Namibians should lodge a complaint if they are not happy with the shortlisted candidates.

“Regarding the concern raised about one of the shortlisted candidates, it is important to note that the recruitment process is still open until the day of the interviews,” Nghikembua told The Namibian.
She urged registered voters to submit their objections in accordance with the Electoral Act.

“And the commission will direct the process accordingly,” Nghikembua said.

Tjivikua was appointed as a member of Swapo’s 31-member think tank in 2021.

The Swapo think tank was established in 2007 “to assist the party in carrying out its activities in their free time”. It provides advice to Swapo on how to manage a modern mass-based political party to address the fast-changing political landscape.

Political analyst Rui Tyitende said the fact that Tjivikua is a member of the governing party’s think tank can be considered problematic and an ethical dilemma.

“In a flawed democracy like ours, it is not the electorate that determines the outcome of an election, but the people that count the votes.

“For instance, will he be able to succumb to pressure to alter the outcome of an election from the powers that be?”

He said the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections were marred by allegations of irregularities and “outright rigging”.

“The use of electronic voting machines without a voter verifiable paper audit trail was a serious violation of the Electoral Act 5 of 2014. Politically, he is conflicted,” he said.

Institute for Public Policy Research director Graham Hopwood said it would seem sensible that the commission rules out candidates who are currently occupying or have recently occupied positions in party structures.

“Anyone occupying the position of chief electoral officer has to be seen as politically neutral, otherwise the credibility of Namibia’s elections will be affected negatively,” he said.

Hopwood emphasised that it is vital that the ECN maintains its independence from political parties in order to ensure electoral integrity.

“Voters will quickly lose confidence in the electoral process if the ECN is viewed as being politically aligned,” he said.
Another analyst, Erika Thomas, said the ECN will compromise their own mission to conduct and manage electoral and referendum processes for Namibian citizens.

“Because some of these features like free, fair and credible elections will be questioned,” she said.

She believes this will lead to the questioning of ECN by opposition party members.

“Let the ECN desist from interviewing a member of the Swapo think tank in order to preserve their objectivity,” Thomas said.

Meanwhile, political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah differed from Hopwood, saying the ethics and principles of the candidate were of paramount importance.

“He will conduct himself in an ethical way rather than really subjecting the person because the person belongs to a political think tank,” he said.

Besides serving in the think tank, Tjivikua is not actively involved in politics, he said.

“I think it should pass in terms of conflict of interest that the person is not really that active, but also this will depend on his personal ethical standards and principles, to make sure that he carried himself in a neutral and fair manner,” Kamwanyah said.