In this instalment, the focus will be on the electronic voting machine (EVM). The proposed EVM’s are supposed to replace ballot papers in the 2019 general elections, but it has become a thorny matter with huge potential to divide the already polarised nation in the near future. Given the serious implications likely to emerge in the aftermath of EVM use I thought it prudent to enter the debate. Specifically, I will advise that the proponents of EVM’s have incorrectly presented them as a technical solutions to ‘delays’ often encountered when votes are countered. In fact, as a nation we have never experienced any delay in the release of elections since independence ones in 1965 to date, as is the case in other countries in the continent and beyond. More worryingly, I would also argue that we might be adopting a flawed and inappropriate instrument that is not consistent with the demands of our electoral laws and practise. Hence, the EVM should be condemned in the strongest possible terms as a reform model meant to serve particular interests at the expense of the public ones. If there is need for reforms they should be negotiated and agreed on by all concerned parties, otherwise wholesale changes should worry many given what electoral disputes have led to in many African countries.
That as a people we have developed a strong positive culture of electoral competition is widely recognised. Batswana are taken to be a peaceful people who are prepared to accept election results without any disturbances. Little, however, has been offered to explain such a behaviour, except that its part of our culture ÔÇô it’s our DNA. This explanation might be partially true, but it is not guaranteed to hold over time. Yes, we might have opted to remain peaceful even in the face of danger but the magnitude of endangerment was not enough to provide a spark leading to open conflict and war often associated with flawed elections. What we know is that the electoral dominance of the BDP from independence elections until the late 1990s meant that there was technically no contest between the ruling party and opposition. In that way, electoral contest was just a formality with outcome known in advance. Hence, for the better part of our post-independence period electoral contest in Botswana was just a mere academic exercise that failed to raise temperature among the populace every time our people went to vote. Election were not a high stake endeavour.
Things have now taken a different turn, however. The dominance of the BDP is finally being challenged. Its popular vote, we should remember has always been on the downwards trend. What happened in 2014 elections, however, was monumental: for the first time in the country’s electoral contest, the ruling party achieved a popular vote below 50%. Obviously, it meant that they were ruling with less legitimacy than was the case in the past elections. Something needed to change if the ruling party was to maintain its position ÔÇô governing over the country. Undoubtedly, electoral reforms that would favour them were considered and the EVM proved attractive for a variety of reasons. But before we consider why EVM proved the masterstroke for the ruling party we should ask; what it is and how it was adopted in parliament?
EVM’s are basically electronic machines meant to enhance efficiency in the voting process. They help quicken counting of votes, which in large populations would have taken substantial time to do. But the EVM’s also have downsides. In particular, the machines are deemed problematic because they can easily be hacked. Yes, these are computer based machines and, therefore, likely to be manipulated anyhow by special interests. And this criticism forms the key argument for those who are not in favour of the introduction of such machines. Put simple, the EVM’s are intended to cheat and, hence, effect outcome of elections in a particular way ÔÇô often favouring those in power. Why should our opposition and the general population suspect bad faith with introduction of EVM’s? Chiefly, the way it was introduced and adopted in parliament raised suspicion. The EVM motion was not only rushed but there was lack of consultation with Batswana regarding its efficacy. A fundamental policy process that marked our polity was therefore circumvented with introduction of EVM’s. Interestingly or shockingly consultations across the country on introduction of such machines is ongoing as I write this piece! Why consult on something that has already been adopted in parliament and the relevant legislation changed? Desperation, indeed on the part of those in charge of our republic.
I sense nervousness when people talk of EVM’s. Yes, this is a critical reform introduced with all intends and purpose to alter election results in favour of one player over another. Obviously, the opposition would not introduce an instrument, which they won’t be in charge of hoping that it would favour them. But yet again the momentum heading into 2019 is with the opposition and, therefore, why would they want to change a system that potentially would work in their favour? There is uneasy surrounding the proposed EVM’s. The BDP faithfuls prefer silence. And that quietness says a lot about the motive of bringing EVM’s. They are now concerned with self-preservation. It makes sense.
What doesn’t makes sense, however, with the proposed EVM’s is why opposition parties are not providing spirited resistance against the machines? The legislation was passed, uncharacteristically in the wee hours of the morning in parliament, when key members of the opposition block were absent! Why they were not in attendance when key electoral reform was being proposed beats logic. Now that we are where we are opposition parties need to be heard that they are not for EVMs. But they are not talking loudly and sensibly.
The opposition block needs to tell Batswana that there is a logical and cheaper way of resolving electoral delays, if any, through minor reform of the existing electoral system. This would not be a radical reform move. Importantly, they need to demand that like councillors votes MPs ones be countered at polling stations. Thereafter results can be communicated to a central point for tallying purposes. This will cut significant time often wasted waiting for ballot boxes travelling hundreds of kilometres in dirt roads to reach central polling stations. This leaves open the possibilities of stuffing boxes and related acts. Counting at polling stations will make everything transparent and acceptable. Anything else should be resisted!