The Seventh Day Adventist church has expressed concern about the timing of elections (General and By-elections) which they say usually coincides with their day of worship.
Pastor Boitirelo Kabo says over the years the church has been engaging the government, particularly the IEC, about the possibility of holding elections on any other day besides Saturdays.
Traditionally, elections in Botswana have been held on Saturdays and this has not gone down well with the church which boasts of more than 40┬á000 eligible voters nationwide.
“The Bible sets aside a day in a week for worshiping and, according to our understanding as the Seventh Day Adventists, we believe that day to be Saturday,” Kabo explains, “It is a day that we have set aside solemnly for worshiping and we do not do anything that has nothing to do with worshiping.”
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s Chief Elections Officer, Dintle Rapoo, says they have received concerns especially during stakeholder workshops but they can only advise the President on their readiness to conduct the election which then informs the President or Minister to set the date.
Section 34 of the Electoral Act gives the President the prerogative to set the date by issuing a Writ, except in the case of councillor/ward by-elections in which case Section 154 gives the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development the power to set the date by issuing an Election Instrument.
“In deciding the exact date, His Excellency acts on the advice of stakeholders who notably include the IEC. Among the concerns is that the voters rolls are up to date and logistics in place. You may recall that in 1999 then President Mogae had to summon Parliament back into extraordinary session because the voters’ rolls were not in order,” says Dr Jeff Ramsay, Government Spokesperson.
Closing time for polls in Botswana has invariably been set at seven in the evening, coinciding with the end of the Sabbath Day which gives the congregation little, if any, time to cast their vote.
“Very few people do show up after 7pm since a lot of people know the opening and closing times because they are normally advertised. Sometimes people who vote after closing time would have arrived earlier than seven,” says IEC’s Rapoo.
He says the IEC has intensified civic and voter education to sensitize religious groups about their civic responsibility.
Seventh Day Adventist’s Pastor Kabo says although they do encourage their members to vote at the end of Sabbath Day it is not the best arrangement that they should be voting after sunset. “We want to be able to vote during the day like the rest of the citizens,” he says.
Section 61 of the Electoral Act makes provision for early voting only for poll staff and police officers which is normally two weeks before the set voting day.
Pastor Kabo says they have in the past also solicited support from cabinet ministers with the hope that they would influence the decision on the day for elections.