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The polarising debate on Electoral reforms

In the aftermath of the American presidential election on 2 November 2004, electronic voting machines were again in the news – computerised machines had lost votes, subtracted votes, and doubled some votes too. And because many of these machines had no paper audit trails, a large number of votes were lost for good and could not be counted.

Fast forward, and closer to home, Namibia, a neighbour with the same population as Botswana, same geographical spread, same literacy rate, and a similar political system dominated by one party, has in the recent past introduced electronic voting machines. So far there have been no qualms with this reform in Namibia.

The most technologically advanced democracy in the world is arguably America, and India is probably the biggest democracy because it has a large voting population. These two massive nations use the electronic voting machines, and America has been the benchmark of democracy to many young democracies. Namibia officials had globe trotted to have an understanding of the electronic voting machines and they are confident in their system.

Botswana has been using the ballot paper since 1965 when Sir Seretse Khama won the first election and became the Republican President. Other tweaks and manoeuvres have been occasioned over time on a piece meal approach, with the opposition preferring an overhaul of the country’s constitution. The biggest argument in Botswana has always been that policy and law is only influenced by the executive.

Today Botswana is pursuing the American dream and P150 million is on the table to actualise it.

 The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso told the media this week that the changes to the Electoral Law were instigated by the Executive and they are ready to implement the law. He says the blame should not be directed at the IEC but rather Parliament which was given an opportunity to debate and pass the law.

With Namibia having set the trend within SADC, Botswana is following suit after an Electoral Act amendment was hastily passed by the last sitting of Parliament. President Lt Gen Ian Khama has quickly signed it into law, which means in 2019, Botswana will use electronic voting machines for the first time after 53 years of democracy.

The opposition is not amused; the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) want to throw the spanner into the works by challenging President Khama’s decision in court over the Electoral Act amendment. Through various statements, the opposition politicians have made it abundantly clear that they are not in support of the electronic voting machines and other sweeping changes in the Electoral Act amendment law.

Most seriously, they are threatening to boycott the national elections in 2019, with the Umbrella partner, Botswana National Front (BNF) being the most vociferous when it comes to this pronouncement. But in his usual defiance mode, President Khama signed the amendments into law at the peak of opposition voices against the law, “it is an ‘I do not care what you think’ attitude,” quips Dithapelo Keorapetse, BCP spokesperson.

He says even the most sophisticated democracies have had problems with the voting machines. There is need for proper consultation and benchmarking, “we are worried as to why the rush,” he says pointing out the problems encountered by America in 2004 and before. “We are serious about litigation.”

MISTRUST AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

A sharp emphasis by the opposition is also on the scrapping off of the supplementary registration exercise which was designed to address voter apathy by encouraging more people to register to vote. This time around, it will just be one round of registration. Interestingly this change was first mooted at a ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) gathering by President Khama. The opposition is concerned that this move will disenfranchise many voters come 2019. They are of the view that there was no consultation when these far reaching changes were made, and they are probably self-serving to the BDP. Moeti Mohwasa of the UDC is of the view that the BDP’s authoritarian approach to this issue has the potential to destabilise the peace of the country, “when you disenfranchise people, you are inviting trouble,” he said.

The Opposition says in the rush to improve speed and scalability, accuracy could be sacrificed. Dithapelo emphasises that accuracy is not how well the ballots are counted by, say, a punch-card reader but it is how well the process translates voter intent into appropriately counted votes. As expected, the opposition says another issue is that the software for the electronic voting machine can be ‘hacked’. That is, someone can deliberately introduce an error that modifies the result in favour of his preferred candidate. The UDC and the BCP have never trusted the country’s intelligence agency, the Directorate in Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), especially its Director General, Isaac Kgosi, because of his close association with President Khama. To advance their antagonism to the debate they roped in the DIS into the Electoral reforms debate.

Experts in this EVM technology continue to argue in favour of EVMs. “This doesn’t mean that these machines should be abandoned, but they need to be designed to increase both their accuracy, and peoples’ trust in their accuracy.” Some Members of Parliament were recently sent out on a benchmarking tour to learn more about EVMs, these included Ngaka Ngaka of the BDP, Dithapelo Keorapetse of the BCP and Ndaba Gaolathe of the UDC. It remains to be seen where this debate is heading but the writing is on the wall, Khama will not retract his signature and seems determined to go ahead with the amendments.  

The IEC at the press conference on Wednesday promised a thorough voter education exercise to sell the story of how the machine they intend to procure will allow for a process that is auditable, transparent and secure. Seeletso and his team take a leaf from other countries, particularly large ones like Brazil, India and the Philippines, where electronic voting and electronic counting means that people can get official election results within hours, instead of weeks. They are of the view that this builds trust.

But the IEC has always struggled to reach a 75 percent target of registered voters. It remains to be seen if the EVMs would invite more voters, or turn them away. The general view is that electronic voting is very good at making voting more accessible, meaning it’s easier for people with disability to vote independently.

THE BDP HYPOTHESIS: The BOFEPUSU factor  

Meanwhile a soul searching probe by this publication has revealed that the ruling BDP has a theory that the opposition is afraid of losing control over the voting process. The BDP hypothesis is that the opposition was confident that with the civil servants at the heart of the electoral process at voter registration, counting centres and other streams, they had an advantage over the ruling party which has agitated the working class in the recent. “They fear that the voting machines are taking the power away from the hands of the civil servants who could be party to some potentially manipulative antics when it comes to ballot voting especially when it comes to ballot bundling at counting period.” It is clear that there are counter accusations and those in the driving seat will push their agenda anyway. The law is such that when an electoral officer declares a winner at the counting centre a court of law can reverse it, and it is not an overnight exercise, it takes months. And surely the likelihood of events overtaking the court process is very high.

LEGITIMATE RESULTS

The IEC has a theory that the Electronic voting machines should be built to order and they have specifications for their choice of machine which they intend to sell to political parties and the public. They believe that every country has different needs. That’s why every electronic voting solution is designed different. IEC says the system should be designed to meet your country’s laws and requirements, we can guarantee one thing – that it will lead to fast, legitimate results. 

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Opposition Will Never Achieve Anything- Nkaigwa

8th April 2021
Haskins Nkaigwa

Former Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Member of Parliament for Gaborone North, Haskins Nkaigwa has confirmed his departure from opposition fold to re-join the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

Nkaigwa said opposition is extremely divided and the leadership not in talking terms.  “They are planning evil against each other. Nothing much will be achieved,” Nkaigwa told WeekendPost.

“I believe my time in the opposition has come to an end. It’s time to be of value to rebuilding our nation and economy of the country. Remember the BDP is where I started my political journey. It is home,” he said.

“Despite all challenges currently facing the world, President Masisi will be far with his promises to Batswana. A leader always have the interest of the people at heart despite how some decisions may look to be unpopular with the people.

“I have faith and full confidence in President Dr Masisi leadership. We shall overcome as party and nation the current challenges bedevilling nations. BDP will emerge stronger. President Masisi will always have my backing.”

Nkaigwa served as opposition legislator between 2014-2019 representing Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under UDC banner.  He joined BMD in 2011 at the height public servant strike whilst Gaborone City Deputy Mayor. He eventually rose to become the mayor same year, after BDP lost majority in the GCC.

Nkaigwa had been a member of Botswana National Front (BNF), having joined from Alliance for Progressives (AP) in 2019.

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Botswana benefits over P100 million in grants from Japan

7th April 2021
Ambassador HOSHIYAMA

Botswana has received assistance worth over P100 million from Japanese government since 2019, making the latter of the largest donors to Botswana in recent years.

The assistance include relatively large-scale grant aid programmes such as the COVID-19 programme (to provide medical equipment; P34 million), the digital terrestrial television programme (to distribute receivers to the underprivileged, P17 million), the agriculture promotion programme (to provide agricultural machinery and equipment, P53million).

“As 2020 was a particularly difficult year, where COVID-19 hit Botswana’s economy and society hard, Japan felt the need to assist Botswana as our friend,” said Japan’s new Ambassador to Botswana, Hoshiyama Takashi.

“It is for this reason that grants of over P100 million were awarded to Botswana for the above mentioned projects.”

Japan is now the world’s fourth highest ranking donor country in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA).

From 1991 to 2000, Japan continued as the top donor country in the world and contributed to Asia’s miracle economic development.

From 1993 onwards, the TICAD process commenced through Japan’s initiative as stated earlier. Japan’s main contribution has been in the form of Yen Loans, which are at a concessional rate, to suit large scale infrastructure construction.

“In Botswana, only a few projects have been implemented using the Yen Loan such as the Morupule “A” Power Station Rehabilitation and Pollution Abatement in 1986, the Railway Rolling Stock Increase Project in 1987, the Trans-Kalahari Road Construction Project in 1991, the North-South Carrier Water Project in 1995 and the Kazungula Bridge Construction Project in 2012,” said Ambassador Hoshiyama.

“In terms of grant aid and technical assistance, Japan has various aid schemes including development survey and master planning, expert dispatch to recipient countries, expert training in Japan, scholarships, small scale grass-roots program, culture-related assistance, aid through international organizations and so on.”

In 1993, Japan launched Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) to promote Africa’s development, peace and security, through the strengthening of relations in multilateral cooperation and partnership.

TICAD discuss development issues across Africa and, at the same time, present “aid menus” to African countries provided by Japan and the main aid-related international organizations, United Nations (UN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.

“As TICAD provides vision and guidance, it is up to each African country to take ownership and to implement her own development following TICAD polices and make use of the programmes shown in the aid menus,” Ambassordor Hoshiyama noted.

“This would include using ODA loans for quality infrastructure, suited to the country’s own nation-building needs. It is my fervent hope that Botswana will take full advantage of the TICAD process.”

Since then, seven conferences where held, the latest, TICAD 7 being in 2019 at Yokohama. TICAD 7’s agenda on African development focused on three pillars, among them the first pillar being “Accelerating economic transformation and improving business environment through innovation and private sector engagement”.

“Yes, private investment is very important, while public investment through ODA (Official Development Assistance) still plays an indispensable role in development,” the Japanese Ambassador said.

“For further economic development in Africa, Japan recognizes that strengthening regional connectivity and integration through investment in quality infrastructure is key.”

Japan has emphasized the following; effective implementation of economic corridors such as the East Africa Northern Corridor, Nacala Corridor and West Africa Growth Ring; Quality infrastructure investment in line with the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment should be promoted by co-financing or cooperation through the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Japan.

Japan also emphasized the establishment of mechanisms to encourage private investment and to improve the business environment.

According to the statistics issued by Japan’s Finance Ministry, Japan invested approximately 10 billion US dollars in Africa after TICAD 7 (2019) to year end 2020, but Japanese investment through third countries are not included in this figure.

“With the other points factored in, the figure isn’t established yet,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.

The next conference, TICAD 8 will be held in Tunisia in 2022. This will be the second TICAD summit to be held on the African continent after TICAD 6 which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016.

According to Ambassador Hoshiyama, in preparation for TICAD 8, the TICAD ministerial meeting will be held in Tokyo this year. The agenda to be discussed during TICAD 8 has not yet been fully deliberated on amongst TICAD Co-organizers (Japan, UN, UNDP, the World Bank and AU).

“Though not officially concluded, given the world situation caused by COVID-19, I believe that TICAD 8 will highlight health and medical issues including the promotion of a Universal Health Coverage (UHC),” said Hoshiyama.

“As the African economy has seriously taken a knock by COVID-19, economic issues, including debt, could be an item for serious discussion.”

The promotion of business is expected to be one of the most important topics. Japan and its partners, together with the business sector, will work closely to help revitalize private investment in Africa.

 

“All in all, the follow-up of the various programs that were committed by the Co-Organizers during the Yokohama Plan of Actions 2019 will also be reviewed as an important item of the agenda,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.

“I believe that this TICAD follow-up mechanism has secured transparency and accountability as well as effective implementation of agreed actions by all parties. The guiding principle of TICAD is African ownership and international partnership.”

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Magosi pushes for Cabinet reshuffle

6th April 2021
President Masisi

Directorate on Intelligence Services (DIS) Director General, Brigadier Peter Magosi is said to be hell-bent and pushing President Mokgweetsi Masisi to reshuffle his cabinet as a matter of urgency since a number of his ministers are conflicted.

The request by Magosi comes at a time when time is ticking on his contract which is awaiting renewal from Masisi.

This publication learns that Magosi is unshaken by the development and continues to wield power despite uncertainty hovering around his contractual renewal.

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