A minister has turned the tables on one of the most vocal opponents of electronic voting machines (EVMs), Wynter Mmolotsi, by reminding him that he was actually the one who suggested use of such machines in the first place.
“I wish to remind the honourable house that this member previously – on the 2nd of March 20l5 to be precise, called for the introduction of the EVMs from the floor of this house,” said the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, when parliament once more tackled the ticklish issue of EVMs.
Then Molale was presenting the 2015/16 budget estimates for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which falls under his ministry. Among those who rose to comment was the Francistown South MP.
“Let me quote where he said ‘Look at what recently happened at Namibia. They are newcomers yet they are using the EVM machines at their elections – electronic voting. It is not wrong,’” the minister said quoting from the Hansard. “I am yet to find out how wrong is it today to implement what Honourable Wynter Mmolotsi suggested in this parliament. We are a government that listens. We listened to him despite him being on the opposition side.”
Mmolotsi couldn’t deny those were his words ÔÇô which now form part of the Hansard, but Molale’s statement was equal parts melodrama and parody. The circumstances that obtained at the time that Mmolotsi made his statement were vastly different from those in which EVM legislation was introduced. For that reason, what Mmolotsi and other opposition MPs may have said about electronic voting in the past has been offset by peculiar circumstances around planned EVM use. Besides, opposition MPs have never had a privileged say in shaping government policy.
One contentious issue that has arisen is that the fast-tracking of the EVM legislation gives off the unmistakable stench of a digital rat rotting inside a polling booth. The opposition’s case is that while EVM use is in essence good technological progress, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) seems hell-bent on hacking into the machines and rigging the upcoming general election.
On the other hand, the government remains adamant that the opposition’s protestations are much ado about nothing. Last week Molale told parliament that “out of the 10 339 figure of people who attended these meetings, only 355 were against” the use of EVMs. Alongside the Indian company that will be supplying the machines, the government also says that the machines cannot be hacked. In a particularly bad PR episode last year and apparently without consulting Bharat Electronics Limited, the Indian company supplying the machines, the IEC released a public statement in which it challenged “those with the know how to disrupt, hack & compromise the secure performance of EVMs to do so” at a public demonstration session it was to host in Gaborone. Bharat publicly scoffed at the suggestion and the planned hackathon never went ahead. A local IT security expert says that there is a very good reason why computer manufacturers never ever give 100 percent guarantee about the security of a computer.
“Any computer can be hacked into,” he says.
Additional effort to erect ethical guardrails around EVM use will come in the form of legislation that requires the use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system that Molale says he will bring to parliament.
As this tug of war continues, Sunday Standard has just learnt that on the afternoon of July 22, 2016 (a Friday), a laptop belonging to one of the IEC officers in charge of the EVM project was stolen from the offices of the electoral management body in Gaborone. The officer had just returned from an official trip to India. He had taken that laptop with him and had reportedly inputted it with critical EVM information. According to a source, “we were searched like thugs” and then IEC Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso, is said to have been livid.
The working conspiracy theory about EVMs is that some BDP big guns fear what an opposition victory could mean for their ability to stay as free men this side of prison bars and don’t want to take a chance. Indeed the Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko, has publicly stated that upon entering government, his party would prosecute criminal BDP members who have been breaking and continue to break the law with impunity.