Namibia's President Hage Geingob. Picture: AFP/JEWEL SAMAD
Namibia's President Hage Geingob. Picture: AFP/JEWEL SAMAD

Windhoek — Namibia’s top court on Wednesday dismissed an opposition bid to overturn last year’s general election over the use of paperless, electronic voting machines.

In December, opposition parties petitioned the supreme court to annul the results and order fresh polls, claiming use of electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper record is unconstitutional.

President Hage Geingob secured a second five-year term in the November poll with a hugely diminished majority of 56% compared to 87% in the previous polls in 2014.

The ruling Swapo, which has been in power since Namibia’s independence from SA in 1990, also retained its majority in parliament.

“We decline to set aside the election and order a rerun,” chief justice Peter Shivute ruled. “Applicants have not shown that the absence of a verifiable paper trail has adversely affected their fundamental right to vote.”

While upholding the outcome of the 2019 election, the judges nonetheless ruled in favour of paper trails for future ballots. The lack of a verifiable paper record, they said, was “unconstitutional”.

Runner-up candidate Panduleni Itula, who led the court challenge, welcomed the ruling, even though the election result was confirmed. He told AFP he was satisfied that paper audit trails would feature in the next poll.

“It is not the end of me or the end of the thought process,” Itula said.

Namibia was the first country in Africa to introduce electronic voting machines in 2014. Itula had unsuccessfully petitioned against the machines before the elections, claiming the absence of paper records raised the risk of fraud.

Itula, a dentist, racked up 30% of the vote as Namibia’s first independent candidate. Popular Democratic Movement candidate McHenry Venaani came third with 5.3%.

“I am politically vindicated,” Venaani said after the ruling. “What they have done is going to help our democracy. That is a victory in itself.”