Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Election 2009: Averting another ‘Tshiamo’ or electoral coup

The much celebrated ‘Tshiamo ballot box’ squirted out of the bunch that lay carelessly at the Office of the President after election day in 1984 where Festus Mogae, then Permanent Secretary to the president and supervisor of elections, had learnt that Kenneth Koma’s counting offices had applied for a recount.

The presiding officer, seeking to protect the members of the civil service who had been selected to serve at the polling stations around the country against exposure of the manner in which they voted at Gaborone’s town hall, had refused to grant a box-by-box counting procedure requested by Koma’s counting offices at the beginning of tallying of the votes.

For that reason he poured the ballots from a number of boxes on the table, making it difficult for anybody, including himself, to keep track of which boxes had been counted so that each ward could account for its vote.

The other incidents were:
ÔÇó Approximately 36 ballots from the Village ward were condemned because the number of the voter’s card was inscribed at the polling station on the voter’s envelope. That made it possible to trace the number on the envelope to the voters roll, also making it possible to unveil the name of the voter and the manner in which he or she voted. That is illegal. It offends the principle of the secret ballot.
ÔÇó A little over twenty votes were also condemned because the voter, perhaps believing that they would rather invest both votes in the parliamentary candidate, inserted two discs in the envelope. The voter is given a set of discs for the parliamentary candidate, and the other for the councillor, so he has two of each type where every party has a candidate for parliament and for council.
ÔÇó In a few cases, the voter inserted to different discs ÔÇô say, red for Botswana Democratic Party and the black one with a hole for the Botswana National Front ÔÇô in one envelope.

The presiding officer telephoned Mogae for adjudication over complaints that the intention of the voter who inserted two similar discs into one envelope was clear; he or she wanted to vote for that party, and therefore, for the candidate who stood for it.

Out of the spoilt votes ÔÇô somewhere in the region of 70 or 80 ÔÇô the BNF narrowed the difference between the BDP candidate, Peter Mmusi, and the BNF’s Kenneth Koma by about 30 or 40 votes because the BDP also had a few voters who had inserted more than one red disc in the voter’s envelope.

The accumulated effect of this arithmetic was to reduce the BDP parliamentary majority by what presiding officer Nathaniel Gontse and his counting officers determined to be about 222 votes. But the process of counting, which took from about 7:00 o’clock in the evening to 4:30 the following morning, and the to-and-fro between the counting officers of the contesting candidates and the presiding officer, together with the reports to Mogae, plus the diminishing margin between the winner and the loser, built up to the crucial psychological moment when the losing counting representatives could register a request for a recount.

The margin of error permitted that after about 8.000 ballots were counted, some injustice might have been done to the loser!

Gontse’s officers hollered for rest. The victorious Mmusi let the whole hall know that he had won. But the overriding legal consideration was that Kenneth Koma had put in a protest, though he was himself reluctant to firmly assert that position when he talked to Radio Mmabatho and the slumbering local press.

“I go by what my counting officers say,” Koma recoiled.

Michael Mothobi brought South African advocate Sogott to the Gaborone Sun where he reconstructed the events of election day, though many details were not entirely in concert with what had happened. Nevertheless, Sogott ultimately asked Koma whether he truly believed that he had been done an injustice, to which he responded as he had to the Mmabatho radio people.
His lieutenants, it appeared, were far keener on securing a conclusion that would do justice to his cause, than himself.

The radio announced that, suddenly, an unopened ballot box ÔÇô the Tshiamo one ÔÇô had sprouted out of the lot that were kept at the Attorney General’s office. The law required that the ballot boxes should be kept at the High Court under the watchful eye of the Chief Justice, who is the national presiding officer over the general election. Mogae quickly made the announcement.

Nat Serache reported to the BBC.
Chief Justice O’Brien Quinn diligently set a date. It must have been November 22 or somewhere thereabouts. It took him longer to work up his customary sweat, than to make the announcement that the combined circumstances leading up to his hearing, required that he declare Gaborone South vacant, also determining a date when the bye-election should be done.
Koma won by well over 500 votes. The rest is history.

In the face of growing uncertainty about whether President Khama will permit a change of government if his party loses, it appears that the common sense thing to do is to pre-empt the possibility of such an occurrence.

The three places to look are: –
ÔÇó the independent electoral commission,
ÔÇó the Botswana Defence Force, Police and Prisons service
ÔÇó the civilian population
The All-Party Conference, if it must be reconstituted, has every reason to meet to scrutinise much more rigorously than ever before, the professional and moral credentials of the officers at the Independent Electoral Commission in general, and those of the leader of that organisation.

The manner of its operation must be exposed to public scrutiny at the lowest and the highest levels so that when election day arrives, the political parties, the voters, the lawyers and the IEC itself, should be satisfied that it is beyond all moral or professional reproach, and that it will under all circumstances exercise independence and guarantee fair play in the conduct of its duties.

It should be established that the complaints registered by chairperson, Justice John Mosojane, regarding interference of the office of the president in its work, are put to rest.
The IEC will ensure that the polling stations that were previously located on private farms and other properties will not adversely bias the election against any of contesting party, particularly the opposition.

No member of the BDF, the prisons and police services, should be unduly compelled, at the threat of charges of insubordination, to vote for their bosses in the political arena at the expense of their first allegiance to their constitutional rights.

Secondly, and far more importantly, the army, the police and prisons officers require reinforcement of their professional training which denies them the luxury of political intervention, should they be called upon to do so by any of the contesting political parties at the general election.

Thirdly and finally, the journalists union and the media fraternity ought to be in the lead, training civil society that the state media organisations are tax-sponsored institutions that should be bound by universal rules of professional conduct and ethics. They will be required to enforce the spirit of fair play and equal time for all contestants.

That means that Btv, Radio Botswana and the director, Mr Kaboeamodimo, already owe each leader of the opposition parties the same amount of time as was devoted to the leader of the BDP, Ian Khama, at prime time, to broadcast to the nation their ‘state of my political party’ messages. The Ombudsperson, or otherwise the Chief Justice, should avail himself for adjudication that should correct the imbalance in the time given to political leaders that has already occurred.

The Journalists Union and the media fraternity should already be monitoring broadcast time given to the ruling party in relation to the opposition parties and allotment of space in the newspapers, on the billboards and other advertising spaces with the aim of ensuring fair distribution of time and space for all political parties.

The ‘donor’ community should sponsor pre-election training for polling and counting agents for all political parties, including study of the constitution, the Electoral Act and all laws related to the conduct of the general election.

A ‘Elections Monitoring Volunteer Army’ of civic society spokespersons and non-governmental organisations should be in place to periodically deliberate on, and issue reports about progress on the process leading to the general election.

All this assumes that there shall soon be an announcement of the election date. What if not!

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.