Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Government determined to ignore Masire’s last wish

As someone who made Botswana what it is today, former and now deceased president, Sir Ketumile Masire, was more than qualified to recommend how the country should evolve.

In his last press interview, Masire publicly spoke out against the use of electronic voting machines, expressing grave concern about the country’s democracy being “destroyed” after an impressive decades-long run of credible governance. The opposition fears that the Botswana Democratic Party, which has ruled since independence in 1966, wants to steal the 2019 general election through use of voting technology. From Masire’s perspective, the issue was no longer about whether or not there are plans to steal the 2019 elections but whether an election can be deemed credible if there is a huge dark cloud hanging over it.

“If at any stage, the electoral process seems flawed in the eyes of citizens, the entire exercise would not only lose credibility, but the legitimacy of a government that emerges out of that process would be eroded as well,” the former president was quoted as saying in Botswana Guardian.

However, the government seems determined to ignore what can be realistically conceived as Masire’s last wish for Botswana’s political future. In the 2018/19 financial year, the government has allocated P183.5 million for the purchase of EVMs. This happens even as a case brought by the Botswana Congress Party is still pending at the Francistown High Court and as the opposition collective remains opposed to the use of this technology. Following complaints by the opposition that the machines can be manipulated, the government plans to amend the Electoral Act such that it incorporates the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) which opposition MPs insisted on.

“The introduction of the VVPAT will enable each voter to verify their vote and therefore, will enhance transparency in the electoral process and credibility of the system,” the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, told parliament when presenting budgetary estimates for the Independent Electoral Commission.

Not too long ago, Molale hinted that the government will not indulge opposition demands any more after addition of the VVPAT provision to the electoral law. However, this is still problematic because VVPAT itself can compromise the integrity of the secret ballot because it can be manipulated to produce false results. Some First World countries (like Germany) have banned EVMs precisely because they can be easily tampered with. A Netherlands TV station aired a documentary showing how easy it was to hack EVMs that were about to be used in the country’s general election, prompting the government to withdraw the machines and revert to paper ballots. After spending close to US$75 million on EVMs with VVPAT function, Ireland scrapped them upon the discovery of their manipulability.

The opposition may have dug a hole for itself because it is the one that insisted on VVPAT which itself provides no absolute that an election will be credible.

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