The Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has said that Botswana is not ready to allow prison inmates to vote in the general elections.
The Minister was commenting on concerns by some observers that Botswana should join other countries in the region such as South Africa which allow inmates to cast votes during elections.
“As government, we don’t see the importance of having such constitutional reform of allowing inmates to vote. If we did, you could have seen and witnessed a bill tabled before parliament. The absence of a bill says it all,” said Masisi.
Minister of Justice, Defense and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse, whose portfolio the department of prison falls under, declined to comment on whether inmates should be allowed to vote or not. He referred all queries to Masisi.
Government spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay, shot down the call of such constitutional reforms saying that government is under no pressure to do so.
“To allow inmates to vote is a matter of political choice; some countries do so, some do not. At any rate, it is the responsibility of parliament to do so if they think is important,” he said.
According to Ramsay, government will be within its rights whether to have such a constitutional reform or not.
Commenting on the matter, University of Botswana academic Obonye Jonas stated that denying a prisoner the right to vote is violation of his or right to participate in the public affairs of his country.
“There is just no rational connection between incarceration and the denial of the right to vote. There is no legitimate government purpose that is being served by denying prisoners the right to vote,” he said.
According to Jonas, all forms of democratic government are founded upon the right to vote. Without that right, democracy cannot exist.
“The marking of a ballot is the mark of distinction of citizens of a democracy. It is a proud badge of freedom. While the Charter guarantees certain electoral rights, the right to vote is generally granted and defined by statute. That statutory right is so fundamental that a broad and liberal interpretation must be given to it,” said Jonas.
He said every reasonable effort should be made to enfranchise citizens. Conversely, every care should be taken to guard against disenfranchisement.
Some of the countries that give convicted criminals the same voting rights are Canada, Australia, Denmark, France, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Czech Republic.