Masisi heeds Sir Ketumile’s dying words, dumps EVMs?

12 Aug 2018

President Mokgweetsi Masisi is expected to reverse a decision by former President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s administration to use electronic voting machines during the 2019 General elections. Sources close to the Office of the President have revealed that Masisi has indicated that he was uncomfortable with the use of EVMs because Batswana have not been adequately consulted. The new President who was close to the late former President Quett Masire is also believed to have heeded Sir Ketumile’s last advice to government that : “I find the EVM law not only unnecessary, but to also have inherent potential to disrupt the peace and harmony Botswana has enjoyed for so long.” The late Sir Ketumile said, “If against all advice, the EVM is put into use in the next general election, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party will be the biggest loser. If the BDP wins, it will be accused of cheating. If it loses it will be said the party lost despite its attempt to rig elections.”

Speculation that Masisi will cross out the use of EVMs comes at the time when the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is reeling from a double whammy in its defence against a legal challenge by the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is opposing the planned use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the 2019 elections.  The IEC was still nursing its disappointment following the refusal by the Election Commission of India to come in as a star witness and depose an affidavit on the credibility of EVM, when it received another blow this week that the machines will not be available for the Botswana electoral body to demonstrate their credibility in court.

A delegation from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) visited the Nirvachan Sadan, headquarters of Election Commission of India two months ago to try and convince their Indian counterparts to depose before the Francistown High Court on the merits of using the EVM. 

Two months after the Indian electoral body stated its reluctance to depose an affidavit they have also decided not to make any commitment to the IEC. According to media reports the Indian electoral body has decided to defer any decision until it is fully prepared its 2019 polls and the 12-lakh EVMs required for the Botswana elections are in its custody. It is understood that the Election Commission of India has informed IEC about its decision.

IEC has been in discussions with Election Commission of India for the past six months over the issue. According to Indian newspapers, it is expected that Election Commission of India will only be in possession of EVMs by September-October only weeks or days before the Botswana General Elections. It is only then that the Indian Commission may consider Botswana’s request. Even then, an EVM different from the one that is used in India would be designed for Botswana.

“Once our EVMs are ready, we can consider Botswana’s request and ask manufacturers to design a new and different EVM for their elections. We have earlier helped Nepal and Nigeria too,” a senior EC official confirmed to ET. 

The Election Commission of India is reportedly wary of allowing any demonstration of the EVMs used in Indian elections in Botswana or elsewhere, keeping in mind the political rhetoric and suspicion around EVMs during every election. 

The Indian media had reported that a delegation led by Botswana’s election commissioner had met EC officials on May 30 with a request that 4-5 EVMs be sent for demonstration in the African country’s court. 

 When contacted for comment, IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba claimed ignorance of their request. “I am not aware of the attempt to secure a witness from the Indian Electoral Commission to testify in the pending court cases by the Commission,” he said.

Pressed further to comment on whether they had engaged the presidency on the difficulty they are facing, Maroba said “the Commission is alive to the developments on the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2016 and when the time is right it (Commission) will be at liberty to engage all those affected.” 
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Manual Workers Union are currently challenging the introduction of the EVMs. Amongst other reliefs, the BCP says that all sections of the Electoral (Amendment) Act No. 7 of 2016, which provide for the replacement of voting by Ballot Paper by EVMs be declared unconstitutional and in violation of Section 32 (3) (c) of the Constitution of Botswana be set aside and struck out.