Saturday, November 28, 2020

Opposition’s People’s Court will try BDP, IEC in absentia

To some, the idea of a “People’s Court” in which only side is represented and in which the issue of a contested electoral outcome has been conclusively settled by the highest court in the land would seem like politico-judicial theatre. However, that is not how the publicity manager of this project, Moeti Mohwasa, sees the issue.

“Witnesses will give evidence just like they do in court and sworn affidavits will be introduced during the proceedings,” says Mohwasa, adding that lawyers working with the organising committee have stated that the People’s Court will function exactly like a proper court. “The emphasis will be on sharing evidence with members of the public so that they also learn how the Botswana Democratic Party rigged last year’s elections.”

Mohwasa is the spokesperson of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, a loose confederation of three opposition parties: Botswana National Front (which Mohwasa is secretary General of), the Botswana Congress Party and the Botswana People’s Party. UDC is collaborating with the Alliance for Progressives and the Botswana Patriotic Front on the People’s Court project.

Following its loss to the BDP first in last year’s general election and later at the High Court case challenging the results, UDC has built what it feels is a solid enough case to present to the People’s Court. AP and BPF have joined the cause.

The People’s Court was to convene during this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) in Gaborone, with a parade of witnesses taking the stand and documentary evidence proving vote-rigging revealed to the nation. However, the court (such as it is) couldn’t sit because one of the lead participants (a senior lawyer long associated with opposition politics) has had to attend to an urgent family matter. Resultantly, the court has been postponed to a yet unannounced date.

However, there is an oddity with the People’s Court: the accused (being the BDP and the Independent Electoral Commission) will not feature. The latter means that both will be tried in absentia. Explaining this oddity, Mohwasa said that “the BDP refused to deal with the evidence in court.” The background to the latter is as follows: during the High Court case, the BDP successfully made a technical case for why the case shouldn’t proceed before the evidence was even heard. The latter is par for the course in Roman-Dutch law and court process in Botswana but some interpreted that development as determination by the BDP to suppress evidence that would reveal that it rigged elections. Mohwasa says that the People’s Court will reveal evidence that would otherwise have been presented to the High Court.

The People’s Court is being implemented through a nine-member working committee that is chaired by AP’s Major General Pius Mokgware. Mohwasa (UDC) is the Publicity Manager while Justice Motlhabani (BPF is the Logistics Coordinator. Additionally, each one of the three parties has two more representatives in the committee.

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