The Botswana Congress Party is running scared, even hinting at a conspiracy to deny its key parliamentary candidate, Dumelang Saleshando, from retaining the Gaborone Central constituency.
Most of the people that helped to take Saleshando to Parliament in the last general election are police officers. Additional public offices are likely to be disenfranchised as a result of mistakes found in the ballot papers when they were expected to cast their votes on September 29. The IEC cancelled the polls.
The IEC has decided that the public officers will vote on Election Day, 16 October.
BCP fears it will be practically impossible for the officers to cast their votes while also manning the polling stations and keeping the peace.
Worried about a possible backlash arising from the IEC mistakes, the Botswana Congress Party has engaged the Monthe, Marumo firm of lawyers to consider taking the matter to court if no special arrangement is made to enable the police and the electoral officers to vote ahead of everyone else.
The BCP fancies police officers their big sympathisers.
“Our view is that you are obliged in law, and it is not a matter of discretion. Where certain officers are not able to vote by reason of the call of duty relating to the elections, they must be allowed to vote under a special dispensation.
“In view of the position we have taken above we have been instructed to demand that you advise when such elections will be held and failing thereto, we have been mandated to approach court for an appropriate remedy,” say the BCP lawyers.
Speaking to Sunday Standard, Saleshando said the BCP had reason to worry because the only council ward the party captured in Gaborone Central in the last election came from that area where a majority of police officers are found in Segoditshane Ward, which, incidentally houses the numerically important Special Support Group (SSG) Camp of the Botswana Police Service.
“Naturally, all kinds of conspiracy theories have flared up as a result of the way the IEC seems determined to deny these people an opportunity to vote under a special dispensation as envisaged by the Electoral Act,” said Saleshando.
But the IEC deputy chairman, Omphemetse Motumise, holds a different view.
He says far from the 30,000 figure flaunted by the IEC, only a handful of officers will be affected.
He says to mitigate the negative effects arising from the mistakes found in the ballot papers, a combination of measures, including redeployment will be implemented where necessary.
“As you would be aware, the majority of polling staff have been recruited from the locality of their polling stations. The actual number of police officers and election officers who are affected by the above arrangement is therefore not the 30,000 you suggest,” says Motumise.
The opposition political parties have previously raised suspicions about the independence of the IEC. The BCP is not convinced by the IEC deputy chairman when he says “the commission is in constant touch with the affected individuals and relevant stakeholders to ensure that the above plan of redeployment is implemented effectively”.
The Member of Parliament for Gaborone Central for the last five years, Saleshando has been a rising star in Botswana politics, single handedly raising the profile and stature of his party through his intellectual grit and exceptional debating skills.
He has been a real thorn in the flesh for many BDP Members of Parliament and the executive, many of whom have never made a secret of their disdain and open hatred of him.
A BCP central committee member, Saleshando is also responsible for publicity and public affairs.
Hopes were raised among BCP members that Saleshando was destined to retain his seat when the ruling BDP suspended and withdrew the candidacy of its newly elected secretary general, Gomolemo Motswaledi, after he fell out with President Ian Khama.
Motswaledi was a strong candidate who until his withdrawal was giving Saleshando a good run for his money in Gaborone Central.
This week, Saleshando said he was worried that in Gaborone Central alone there were over a 1,000 police officers, many of them residing at the SSG Camp in Maru-a-pula.
These, he said, were the people many of whom voted for him and his party in the past general election.
“It was as a result of these officers that BCP was able to capture the only ward in Gaborone Central in the last elections. One cannot rule out the possibility that denying them an opportunity to vote will ultimately have material impact on the results of the elections,” said Saleshando.
In another development, the BCP has also put the Commissioner of Police, Thebeyame Tsimako, on notice that they will rush to court should he fail to make an undertaking that police officers will be allowed to vote on October 16 as promised by the IEC.