Sunday, March 26, 2023

Electoral reforms ÔÇô hollow words, empty gestures?

There are two ways to look at the Independent Electoral Commission’s recent brief on electoral reforms proposed by the International Institute For Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
The first is hooray to IEC; Botswana’s electoral system is finally getting international attention.

But for the cynics, and there are many the IDEA’s audit and its report are just another round of hollow words and empty gestures. The BDP absence from the brief suggests that such reforms are not on their agenda.

While the BDP claim lack of resources to implement the recommendations, opposition politicians say the ruling party is worried that the reforms will pave way for their exit out of power.

“What is the point of being called after every election year only to be told what observers recommended when in actual fact, the Independent Electoral Commission(IEC) knows that theirs was an exercise in futility since neither them nor Government would do a thing about the findings?”, asked Akanyang Magama, Secretary General, Botswana National Front (BNF)Magama says the effect of attending such briefings can only be to legitimize the ruling party’s machinations, and make it look like stakeholders are adequately consulted and perhaps even appreciate what goes on in relation to election processes.

The BNF Executive Officer was reacting to the findings of the audit findings of the Botswana 2009 General Elections, presented by the Secretary of the IEC, Gabriel Seeletso at a stakeholders’ workshop at the Cresta Lodge last week.

In his presentation, Seeletso grouped the recommendations into two parts: Those that had implications on the legal framework and others which would require the attention of the IEC as well as other relevant authorities.

The most critical in the first category is the amendment of the constitution to provide for election of President by popular vote to strengthen the country’s democracy, and the need to explore a formula for electing and or nominating specially elected representatives.
It was stated that the identified formulae must be designed in a manner that it would be inclusive and representative of the country’s political landscape, unlike in the present set up where the process only “helps entrench the BDP.”

The audit report prepared by IDEA also recommended that, “the following issues could be considered and appropriate changes made in the electoral law: Voting rights for prisoners, better system for Diaspora voting and voting of people with special circumstances as well as political funding.”

There were also suggestions that government should sanction the review of the format and structure of the voters’ roll in order to minimize the search time for names.

The International organization, IDEA proposed that government should consider linking voter registration to the national identification system so that voters can use their national identity cards to register and vote.

It was further recommended that power and mandate of the Delimitation Commission be transferred to the IEC in time for the 2012 exercise to be carried out by the IEC.”

The function of the Delimitation Commission is to determine the number and geographic location of election constituencies at national as at Local government level. The exercise has hitherto been surrounded by controversy. Opposition politicians feel that the exercise is used to carve new constituencies to the benefit of the ruling party.

Seeletso prefaced his brief by pointing out that the IEC expected stakeholders to make an authoritative analysis of the recommendations and come up with resolutions on how best the ultimate “package” for presentation to Government should look like.

The IEC Secretary’s pronouncement got a straight shot from Magama, who said there was nothing new about the recommendations, as they have featured in all the previous reports, but Government never acted on them.

The absence of Government Officials and representatives of the BDP was cited as one sure indicator of the cavalier attitude with which the ruling party took matters of governance.

To all the queries raised by political rivals, Dr Comma Serema, BDP Executive Secretary, did not struggle to find words: “As far as we are aware, it is common knowledge that Government had to make extensive budget cuts and the IEC was not exempt in the face of the economic crisis the country had to avert.”
Serema said the BDP was unperturbed by the excitement at the imagined prospect of direct Presidential election, adding that even if it were to happen, “Our party has a very popular president and would therefore easily scoop the position without an effort.”

In relation to party funding, he pointed out that aside from the current financial and economic situation the country was going through, the ruling party would still have the benefit of taking the bulk of the money which won’t make things any easier for the opposition.

BCP Director of Elections, Stephen Makhura, said “We are not surprised because we understand the predicament the BDP finds itself. To them accepting any of the fundamental recommendations that hinge on existing laws would naturally translate into political suicide,” Makhura told The Telegraph in an interview.

The BCP official said, “Take for example, in addition to what clearly shows to be ample evidence of the incumbent President, Ian Khama’s waning aroma, the fact that like his predecessors having ascended in the way they have to high office, subjecting him to direct election would spell a dead end for the BDP as it thrives on his magic’.”

Concern was raised that the IEC did not state its position on the report.
According to a book on, Transparency, Corruption and Accountability, edited by Zibane Maundeni of the University Of Botswana, all the strings of power connect to the Office of the President as the epicenter of all controls.

“Thus, introducing reform to all these would certainly leave the BDP vulnerable, but it would only be sane that this is looked at constructively to save future generations,” concluded Makhura who submitted that only a united opposition can hasten change before authoritarianism gathered further speed.


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