Nowadays, there seems to be a culture fast becoming part of public debates discourse to try to belittle those who hold different views.
That was not always the case.
In fact, expression of divergent views has always been allowed and encouraged.
It is saddening that political parties now want to own the debates.
The debates should belong to the nation.
This is important so that there are no losers and no winners.
It is when there is no room for losing that people will approach the debates with frankness, openness, courtesy, honesty and sincerity.
In fact, it would not be altogether wild for the Office of the President to convene a national forum to debate these issues.
Such a forum, while altogether free of political party string pulling, would offer the people the chance to map their destiny and confirm their commitment to participate in the political life of their country, thus contributing to the strengthening of democracy in Botswana.
The fact that there are equally very vocal opposing views as to whether Botswana should maintain the ‘first past the post’ system or adopt the representative type is a clear call to the government to offer the people the opportunity to debate the issue so as to make a decision they think can serve them best.
In February 2000, Zimbabwe held a constitutional referendum where the government had its own draft constitution and offered it to the people to decide. The people were consulted nationwide and they rejected the government’s draft constitution in the form it had been presented. We applaud the move to consult the people and we believe that it is time this government facilitated debate on this issue.
The government, like everybody else, can present its draft or proposals while the people, civil society and other stakeholders can also do the same. But in the end, the people will choose what path they want to follow. It is a necessity to involve the people. Ismail Mohammed, the late former Chief Justice of South Africa, once observed that:
“The constitution of a nation is not simply a statute which mechanically defines the structures of government and the relations between the government and the governed, it is a ‘mirror of the national soul’, the identification of the ideals and aspirations of a nation, the articulation of the values binding its people and disciplining its government.”
It is in this spirit that we urge the government to facilitate such a debate to offer the people a chance to participate and offer their views openly and choose, in a dignified manner, what they prefer. This can only strengthen our democracy.