Wednesday, October 20, 2021

‘UDC has already lost the 2019 elections’

The next general election may be two years away but two university dons have already predicted the outcome.

“It could be argued that the opposition has already lost the 2019 elections!” write Professors Monageng Mogalakwe of the University of Botswana and Francis Nyamjoh of the University of Cape Town in an academic paper published in the latest edition of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies.

The authors base their conclusion partly on psephology and mostly on their knowledge of how information technology can be politically subverted. For its 2019 elections, Botswana plans to use controversial technology from India (electronic voting machines) and funds have already been allocated to it in the 2017/18 budget. 

“The last general elections, held in 2014, saw a massive swing to the left opposition, with the ruling party popular vote dropping to 48 percent, down from 53 percent in 2009. These elections followed a period of mass discontent, spearheaded by the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). But because of the spilt of the opposition’s vote, and Botswana’s electoral system of first past the post, the ruling BDP managed to survive. Nervous about the likelihood of a combined opposition victory in 2019, the ruling party has rushed through Parliament a law on electronic voting, a system that is susceptible to hacking, penetration and manipulation,” readers a paper that will be read by scholars and other parties around the world who take an interest in African politics. 

The planned use of this voting technology has become a contentious issue with BOFEPUSU now going to court to challenge the legality of its use. Meanwhile, the government seems determined to go ahead with its plan. Parliament has approved P118 million for the purchase of the machines from an Indian company called Bharat Electronic Limited. The former Secretary of the Independent Electoral Commission, Gabriel Seeletso, who retired last year, has been engaged on a temporary basis as EVM Coordinator. Seeletso has been touring the country to appraise the nation about the new voting dispensation. Against an astounding amount of evidence to the contrary, Seeletso’s task includes having to tell people at kgotla meetings that the machines are not computer-based and cannot be hacked.

With the next election two years away, no one can accuse the BDP of having hacked the election but EVM provide ample opportunity for the party to do so. Some people have cynically suggested that in order to allay any fears, the machines should be used at the ruling party’s all-important national congress in July where new leadership will be elected.

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