For as long as the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) remains under the control of the Office of the President (OP) the ruling Democratic Botswana Party (BDP) will never lose elections.
That seemed to be Nkange Member of Parliament Dr. Never Tshabang’s contention when contributing to the debate on IEC in parliament recently.
The MP raised concerns about the independence of the IEC which has been on the receiving end of intense criticism from opposition parties following the 2019 National Elections in which the BDP retained their 54 yearlong grip on power.
Tshabang said as long as the Secretariat of the elections Commission continues to be appointed by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) or the Office of the President (OP), it will never enjoy complete independence.
“There is a famous statement attributed to famous dictators of Africa which goes ‘how do you lose elections that you are organizing’,” Tshabang said. “The picture that has emerged in the past election, shows that indeed it is very difficult to win elections if you are not organizing them. The independence of IEC stands between us being a successful democracy or a failed state.”
The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) legislator likened the actions of the IEC to that of those of some of its African counterparts from failed democracies. Tshabang, who’s no stranger to losing elections, questioned the trajectory of Botswana’s democracy based on what he called the level of tensions that follow general elections. “I can assure you that these tensions are not going to be reduced if there are no electoral reforms.”
He called for the IEC to run its affairs in full swing without what he said was the interference of the President. IEC, Tshabang contends, should run its own calendars including the setting of the date for elections instead of a President, who is usually an interested party.
UDC Vice President and Leader of Opposition (LOO) Dumelang Saleshando also called for electoral reforms saying Botswana has a very wasteful and inefficient electoral system.
“As it is today, as we pointed out, over 925 000 people on the voters roll for 2019, for 2024, we are going to throw away this 900 000 and start afresh. Most countries have lost that permit for them to continue with the voters roll, such that when you open up registration for 2024, you are starting off from the 925 000 and adding to that number,” Saleshando said, adding that those already on the voting rolls would only need to indicate if they want to transfer, or remain at the same area.
“I do not understand why we want to continue with this process. You now talk of automating registration, to try and increase the number of people who register.”
The LOO also echoed one of SADC Observer Mission’s recommendations that counting should be carried out at respective polling stations.
“Transporting boxes between areas to a central areas is inefficient. There have been many recommendations by observers that we now need to introduce counting at the polling station…such that all that you remit to the center, are numbers that have been signed off by counting agents.” Following the UDC’s costly loss at the Courts after elections petitions Saleshando feels it is time the government established an elections tribunal. The UDC petitioners are expected to pay millions of Pula in legal costs following their failed attempts to challenge elections results.
“It is important to listen to people who feel that they have been cheated, and not subject them to a cumbersome legal process based on technicalities.”
The BDP won a majority of the 24 petitions on technicalities with their lawyers raising preliminary points to defeat the matters before they reached trial. “This is in the interest of everyone. It is not influenced by the recent outcome necessarily, but I think it is in the interest of our democracy to have an independent tribunal, where we can listen to these complaints,” Saleshando said.
In the build up to the 2019 General Elections 1,471 voter registration objections were lodged with the Magistrate Courts. A total of 680 objections were upheld and defendants were struck off the roll. Following the General Elections, 24 petitions were lodged with the High Court out of which two were withdrawn before hearing, 15 petitions were dismissed on preliminary points of law while seven progressed to trial. Out of these seven, four were withdrawn and the remaining three which went for trial were all dismissed with costs. The 15 petitions which were dismissed on preliminary points of law were filed with the Court of Appeal. Subsequently 14 were dismissed on account that the Court of Appeal does not have jurisdiction over National Assembly election petitions.