In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln called democracy “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. It means that we are not here to serve our government, but that our government is here to serve us – and that we have the right to decide who will represent us and how we want to be represented. It means we have one of the greatest rights any free people can have: the right to vote. Voting is a right that, throughout history many have fought for and sacrificed everything to achieve it. It is a right millions continue to fight for and that millions of people throughout the world still do not enjoy. As Batswana, we have the great privilege to live in a free society and voting is one of the rights that make us free.
My citation of the above have been incited by recent pronouncements made by the president of the Botswana National Front (BNF), Duma Boko, to the effect that he has never voted let alone registered for an election in his entire life. These announcements that were made in the media deserve to be scrutinised and challenged. In one of his interviews on Duma FM, a caller asked him if it was true that he has never voted in his entire life, to which he answered in the affirmative. Boko mentioned that he never voted for various reasons ranging from having been abroad at some point, to just sheer lack of interest because his party was not in a good shape to be voted for. The Voice newspaper also interviewed him on the same matter, and here more disclosure has come out. Boko further reveals that he did not vote in 2004 because he had lost his national identification card (ID).
Though I recognise Boko’s right to choose not to vote, I however find his reason that he did not vote because he was abroad at some point to be shaky and porous. Firstly, there is external voting which accords patriotic Batswana who for various reasons would be outside the country during registration for elections and voting. Many have made use of this arrangement to partake in the democratic processes of this country. Boko was abroad between 1994 and 1995 when he was pursuing further studies. This arrangement was in place during that time and if indeed he cared much about this country, he could have utilised external voting to make his vote count. But interestingly, the patriotic Boko never did.
The BNF president says that another reason that he never voted is that in 2004 he had lost his ID therefore could not register for elections. This is quite unconvincing because in this country, registration for elections is done over a period of at least two years, with supplementary provisions to give time and opportunity to those who, for some reasons, might have missed the initial registration processes. The national registration or Omang office also make special provisions during this time to assist Batswana who may have lost or did not have their ID cards to get them for this important undertaking. One then wonders how the BNF president could have been disfranchised on the basis of a lost ID cards, which nowhere he had stated that he encountered exertion replacing it. Many Batswana, even the least privileged and less-versed of the society have ensured that they go from first to last on the above processes in order for them to make their vote count on election day. Here the BNF president should at least respect our intelligence and say something else. The above reason raises questions about his seriousness and tenacity in working at something to overcome a barrier.
On the reason that Rre Boko did not vote in just the recent past election because his party, the BNF was in shambles, I find it to be most preposterous. It needs to be noted that voting is preceded by registration, meaning, for one to make a decision whether to vote or not to vote, one should first have registered. It therefore surprises that the BNF president would say he did not vote because his party was not in a desirable state. The fact is he had not registered as usual therefore there was nowhere he could have made a decision whether to vote or not without a voting card. In other words, if at all Boko has had an interest in voting in 2009, he could have first demonstrated that by getting a voting card through registration. But he did not and therefore could not cast a vote. His reasoning also cast aspersions on his ability to be led and be available when situations are unpleasant. By not voting just because his party was in bewilderment, does the BNF president imply that, other members should take his example if it does happen that the party is in a similar state? Come on Mr president, this is a very appalling precedent.
It is worth noting that Boko has had five chances to vote in the past because of his eligibility, but he has exploited none of them. We are not acquainted with why he did not vote in 1989 and 1999. But that is beside the point.
The point is, by proclaiming publicly that he has never voted, and going to the extent of expounding it, publicly, Boko has not lived by example. His professing publicly has the potential to spiral voter apathy for people would say, no one is obliged to vote, the BNF president has never voted. This is indeed a setback on the war against voter lethargy which the Independent Electoral Commission IEC) and other stakeholders have been combating over the years. Those who want to be in positions of leadership should be mindful of their lexis when commenting in public space, lest they become a bad influence to the society.
This is not only shocking for a leader who would want to convince people to vote for him, but also raises questions of his steadfastness to the ideals of democracy that he currently professes to stand for. It points to a contemptuous attitude towards the whole process of electoral contestation as a means of determining national and even local leadership. In all likelihood, it could be an indicator of an inclination towards dictatorial tendencies, buttressed as it is by the proclivity to coerce his executive into accepting his own personal preferences. Let us all stand fore-warned and fore-armed, for we may have a dictator in the making.