Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has kick-started the process of lobbying civic society and Members of Parliament (MPs) towards a process that will lead to constitutional reform in the country.
The federation, which is the biggest and the most influential labour movement in Botswana this week held a forum where various organs of civic society deliberated on the matter of constitutional reforms. BOFEPUSU comprises of four public sector unions; Botswana Sector of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and National Amalgamated, Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU) and other auxiliary trade unions outside the public sector scope.
Speaking at the conference organised by the federation this week, BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said the aim of the discussion was one way initiating debate that would eventually lead to constitutional reforms. He noted the importance of legislators in taking part in the conversation including in future because they are the core of constitutional reforms as lawmakers. “We had invited all MPs and political parties, but the turnout is not what we expected because our MPs are the main target of this gathering as lawmakers,” he said, commenting on lack of participation by MPs in the conference.
Several MPs and politicians were however in attendance, among them Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader Dumelang Saleshando, Tlokweng MP Masego Segokgo, Mogoditshane and Ghanzi North MPs Sedirwa Kgoroba and Noah Salakae respectively. The constitutional reforms talks have never really had buy-in from influential people. As per the current constitution, major constitutional reforms require a national referendum, a process that can only be set in motion by parliament majority.
Different speakers from the civil society alluded to reforms in the judiciary to make it more democratic and independent from the executive. “It would be in the best interest of democracy that judges are appointed by parliament, not the president,” said Attorney Carlos Salbany. “Although the judiciary’s role is not to make laws but to interpret laws, one way or another through court rulings [judicial precedents], the courts make laws.”
1997 CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
In the mid-1990s, ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) was forced to undergo major constitutional reforms, for the first time since independence. The reforms were brought in by a number of factors at that time. BDP was going through turbulence, owing to factional infightings in the party. The polarity in the party saw the party Young Turks and other progressive individuals in the party pushing for reforms. Individuals such as Kabo Morwaeng, a rising star in the party; Jacob Nkate the party’s youth league leader; Sidney Pilane a resilient lawyer within the party, were instrumental in bringing about reforms in the party.
After a period of self examination, the BDP top brass relented and acceded to the reforms. In 1997 BDP enacted the new political reforms that were highly welcome across the political divide. The newly introduced constitutional provisions included; introduction of the 10 year presidential tenure limit; reduction of voting age from 21 to 18; introduction of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as well as the controversial automatic succession section.
BDP CONGRESS’ 2015 CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
BDP is currently sitting on the 2015 congress resolutions in which the party delegates adopted the possibility of exploring electoral and political reforms. Political Education and Election Committee (PEEC) Sub-committee chaired by former Barataphathi stalwart Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri was mandated with the task. At the heart of the reforms are several proposals such as adoption of hybrid electoral system encompassing First Past The Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation (PR).
For the first time in history, the BDP opened up to the possibility of introducing political party funding, a subject that has been a ‘taboo’ within the party. Political funding was part of the debate and discussions held by the regions with the view of adopting the idea or maintaining the state of affairs. Political party funding has attracted a number of credible proponents in the last few years that are of the view that, a matured democracy like that of Botswana should have by now embraced such an initiative. Among them is the late former President Sir Quett Ketumile Masire who said that failure to do so may result in political parties sourcing funds from undesirable organisations in foreign countries. The reform talks have their own opponents within the BDP as influential members of the central committee who believe the introduction of Proportional Representation or hybrid system as proposed by Ntuane will essentially hand over power to opposition in 2019.
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION AND WOMEN REPRESENTATION
Botswana has continued to fare badly in the ‘The Global Gender Gap Index’ report in the category of political empowerment, a reminiscent of the country sidelining of women in policy and law making decisions. In light of this, BCP Women’s Wing President Daisy Bathusi has proposed the introduction of the proportional representation as the only way that will ensure that more women are brought in parliament.
She said the current environment, where women are expected to compete with men through the First-Past-the-Post system has proven that it will never be friendly to women representation in the country’s law and policy making institutions such as council and parliament. The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time.
The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, education, health and political criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income group. The category of political empowerment measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in minister-level positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, it includes the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.
At present Botswana has only six female MPs out of 63 seats, the recent entrant to the list being Bogolo Kenewendo who was sworn in last year following constitutional amendments in the last session of parliament to increase the number of specially elected MPs from four to six. The low number of female MPs has been attributed to the country’s electoral system which emphasises that winners in the legislature are only elected through first-past-the-post, an enduring system for women.
In Africa, Rwanda outclassed the whole world in political empowerment, according to the 2016 report. Rwanda remains the country with the highest share of female parliamentarians in the world, with 64 percent of representatives in its legislature being female. Neighbouring South Africa which was ranked 13th overall is ranked ahead of Botswana in the category of political participation, with a ranking of 7th position. Other African countries which were ranked ahead of Botswana overall include Namibia, Cape Verde, Mozambique and Burundi.
In the past there were efforts to increase representation of women in parliament through the special election nomination dispensation. In the 9th parliament MP for Mahalapye East Botlogile Tshireletso tried to trigger constitutional amendment to increase the number of specially elected MPs from four to eight of which four seats will be reserved for women. The motion was opposed famously by then Specially Elected MP Ntuane, who argued that increasing the number of special parliamentary seats may not be the best way to increase women's representation in Parliament.
Ntuane suggested that it would be better to change Botswana's electoral system to proportional representation than to add new Specially Elected seats in Parliament. He argued that the voters were not in favour of increasing the number of special MPs because they dilute the power of the elected MPs.
The United States (US) will on the 3rd of November 2020 chose between incumbent Donald Trump of the Republicans and former Vice President Joe Biden of the Democrats amid the coronavirus pandemics, which has affected how voting is conducted in the world’s biggest economy.
Trump (74) seeks re-election after trouncing Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Biden (77) is going for his first shot as Democratic nominee after previous unsuccessful spells.
US Presidents mostly succeed in their re-election bid, but there have been nine individuals who failed to garner a second term mandate, the latest being George W H. Bush, a Republican who served as the 41st US President between 1989 and 1993.
Dr Mark Rozell, a Dean of the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia describes the complex US electoral system that will deliver the winner at the 3rd November elections.
“The founders of our Republic de-centralised authority significantly in creating our constitutional system, which means that they gave an enormous amount of independent power and authority to State and local governments,” Dr Rozell told international media on Elections 2020 Virtual Reporting Tour.
Unlike parliamentary democracies, like Botswana the United States does not have all of the national government elected in one year. They do not have what is commonly called mandate elections where the entire federal government is elected all in one election cycle giving a “mandate” to a particular political party to lead, and instead US have what are called staggered elections, elections over time.
The two house Congress, members of the House of Representatives have two-year long terms of office. Every two years the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election, but senators serve for six years and one third of the Senate is elected every two years.
For this election cycle, US citizens will be electing the President and Vice
President, the entire House of Representatives and one third of the open or contested seats in the Senate, whereas two thirds are still fulfilling the remainder of their terms beyond this year.
An important facet of US electoral system to understand given the federalism nature of the republic, the US elect presidents State by State, therefore they do not have a national popular vote for the presidency.
“We have a national popular vote total that says that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump or in Year 2000 that Al Gore got a half million more votes than George W. Bush, but we have what is called a State by State winner takes all system where each State is assigned a number of electors to our Electoral College and the candidate who wins the popular vote within each State takes 100 percent of the electors to the Electoral College,” explained Dr Rozell.
“And that is why mathematically, it is possible for someone to win the popular vote but lose the presidency.”
Dr Rozell indicated that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won very large popular majorities in some big population States like California, but the system allows a candidate to only have to win a State by one vote to win a 100 percent of its electors, the margin does not matter.
“Donald Trump won many more States by smaller margins, hence he got an Electoral College majority.”
Another interesting features by the way of US constitutional system, according to Dr Rozell, but extremely rare, is what is called the faithless elector.
“That’s the elector to the Electoral College who says, ‘I’m not going to vote the popular vote in my State, I think my State made a bad decision and I’m going to break with the popular vote,’’ Dr Rozell said.
“That’s constitutionally a very complicated matter in our federalism system because although the federal constitution says electors may exercise discretion, most States have passed State laws making it illegal for any elector to the Electoral College to break faith with the popular vote of that State, it is a criminal act that can be penalized if one is to do that. And we just had an important Supreme Court case that upheld the right of the states to impose and to enforce this restriction”
There are 538 electors at the Electoral College, 270 is the magic number, the candidate who gets 270 or more becomes President of the United States.
If however there are more candidates, and this happens extremely rarely, and a third candidate got some electors to the Electoral College denying the two major party candidates, either one getting a majority, nobody gets 270 or more, then the election goes to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives votes among the top three vote getters as to who should be the next President.
“You’d have to go back to the early 19th century to have such a scenario, and that’s not going to happen this year unless there is a statistical oddity, which would be a perfect statistical tie of 269 to 269 which could happen but you can just imagine how incredibly unlikely that is,” stated Dr Rozell.
BLUE STATES vs RED STATES
Since the 2000 United States presidential election, red states and blue states have referred to states of the United States whose voters predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) presidential candidates.
Many states have populations that are so heavily concentrated in the Democratic party or the Republican party that there is really no competition in those states.
California is a heavily Democratic State, so is New York and Maryland. It is given that Joe Biden will win those states. Meanwhile Texas, Florida and Alabama are republicans. So, the candidates will spent no time campaigning in those states because it is already a given.
However there are swing states, where there is a competition between about five and 10 states total in each election cycle that make a difference, and that is where the candidates end up spending almost all of their time.
“So it ends up making a national contest for the presidency actually look like several state-wide contests with candidates spending a lot of time talking about State and local issues in those parts of the country,” said Dr Rozell.
High Commissioner of the Federal Government of Nigeria to Botswana, His Excellency Umar Zainab Salisu, has challenged President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to move swiftly and lobby Africa’s richest man, Nigerian Billionaire, Aliko Dangote to invest in Botswana.
Speaking during a meeting with President Masisi at Office of President on Thursday Zainab Salisu said Dangote has expressed massive interest in setting up billion dollar industries in Botswana. “We have a lot of investors who wish to come and invest in Botswana , when we look at Botswana we don’t see Botswana itself , but we are lured by its geographic location , being in the centre of Southern Africa presents a good opportunity for strategic penetration into other markets of the region,” said Salisu.
As murder cases and violent incidents involving couples and or lovers continue to be recorded daily, Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Dr Unity Dow has called for more funding of non-governmental organizations and accelerated action from government to come up with laws that could inhibit would-be perpetrators of crimes related to Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Just after Dr Dow had deposited her views on this subject with this reporter, a young man in Molepolole opened fire on a married woman he was having an affair with; and ended her life instantly. While it is this heinous cases that get projected to the public space, the former minister argues that the secrecy culture is keeping other real GBV cases under wraps in many spaces in the country.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said there is GBV all the time in all kinds of places. “We have become accustomed to stories of rapes, marital rapes, defilement of children, beatings and psychological violence and even killings,” she said.
Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, Dow is worried that there is absolutely no social punishment for perpetrators; they will continue to have the same friends, jobs, wives, homes, as before. Yet another factor, she said, is that there is little or no “justice” for victims of GBV.
The renowned activist said justice for GBV victims is not just the jailing of the perpetrator. “Justice for victims means an agile, victim-friendly, accessible (time, money and procedures) and restorative justice system.”
Asked what could be leading to a spike in Gender Based Violence cases or incidents, she observed that there is no one factor to which this spike can be attributed. “The most obvious factor is stress as a result of economic distress and or poverty. Poverty makes one vulnerable and open to compromises that they would otherwise not make. For perpetrators with anger management issues, economic stress leads to lashing out to those closest to them. Another factor is the disintegration of families and family values,” she opined.
According to Dow, no government anywhere in the world is doing enough, period. “We know the places and spaces where women and girls are unsafe. We know the challenges they face in their attempts to exit those spaces and places.” The former Judge of the High Court said GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in the culture of silence.
Asked what could be done to arrest GBV cases, Dow said it is critical to involve and fund civil society organizations. She observed that much of the progress done in the area of women’s human rights was during the time when Botswana had strong and funded civil society organizations.
“The funding dried up when Botswana was declared a middle-income country but unfortunately external funding was not replaced by local funding,” she acknowledged.
Further Dow said relevant government institutions must be funded and strengthened.
“Thirdly, create a society in which it is not okay to humiliate, rape, beat or kill women. You create this by responding to GBV the same way we have responded to livestock theft. We need to create agile mechanisms that hear cases quickly and allow for the removal of suspected perpetrators from their homes, work places, boards, committees, etc.”
The former Minister said the much anticipated Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender Based Violence will have its work cut out for it. According to Dow, GBV is not just a justice issue, it’s not just a gender issue, but rather an issue that cuts across health, education, labour, economic, housing and politics. “As long as any one believes it is someone else’s problem, we will all have the problem,” she said.
In her view, Dow said every work, educational and other place must have a GBV Policy and/or Code of Conduct. “It is important that we acknowledge that the majority of men are law-abiding. The problem is their silence, in the face of injustice,” she observed.