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Problem with our Elections: The President picks election dates

On 13 November 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer carried a headline that read ‘Palestinian vote is postponed’. The paper quoted an Associated Press report that the Palestinian Election Commission (PLC) ruled that the scheduled 24th January 2010 elections should be postponed because of opposition from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip part of Palestine.

On 15 November 2009, the Christian Science Monitor carried an interview with a Canadian elections and political expert who stated that the PLC had always maintained neutrality and an arm’s length from politics, and that their position was ‘if we can’t have elections everywhere, then we cannot do our job’ if Hamas is not going to participate.

On 21 January 2008,Mmegi, one of Botswana’s independent newspapers, carried a headline that read ‘IEC awaits by-election dates’. In an interview with the newspaper, the Secretary of the IEC was quoted as saying that his office was yet to receive dates for upcoming bi-elections from the Minister of Local Government.

In the same interview, the IEC Secretary also noted that his office was also waiting for the President to announce the dates for bi-elections for two constituencies whose parliamentary seats were recently left vacant by the resignations of parliamentarians.

These are very contrasting reactions concerning the date of elections from two EMBs from two different jurisdictions: the first from Botswana, a country often referred to as an exemplar of democracy in Africa, and the second from occupied Palestine.

Whilst Botswana’s EMB has to wait to hear from the Executive before it can make preparations for a pending election, the Palestinian’s EMB, of its own volition, decides to postpone the elections in order to accommodate the opposition!

In Botswana, the choice of date for the Election Day is one of the contentious issues that confronts Botswana’s electoral management system. This problem arises from Botswana’s amended Electoral Act.

According to Section 34 of the Act, for the purpose of general elections to the National Assembly, or a bi-election, it is the President who shall issue a Writ of Elections addressed to the returning officer of each constituency, fixing the place, day, and hours between which the returning officer will receive nominations of candidates, and the day for taking any poll which may become necessary.

In the case of the elections of representatives to local government, the Act states that it is the Minister of Local Government who shall issue an Election Instrument fixing the place, day, and hours between which the returning officer will receive nominations of candidates and the day for taking any poll which may become necessary. It is contended here that if the IEC is to fulfil its mandate to ensure free and fair elections, then it should be the IEC, and not the State President or a minister, who should issue writ of elections.

According to Tshosa (2007) this is another instance of the unfairness, rather than the unfreeness, of the elections process in Botswana. As Tshosa posits, the issue at stake concerns the fairness of the election rather than the freeness of election because the freeness of elections in Botswana has never really been a problem: every eligible voter can freely participate in the elections, provided he/she has registered as a voter. The Electoral Act, as it currently stands, clearly advantages the ruling party by giving the prerogative to issue elections writ to interested parties.

This can be demonstrated by examining, for example, a bi-election in 2013. The facts of the matter are as follows: following a dispute between the ruling party candidates about the outcome of the primary elections, one candidate went to the High Court to seek an injunction to stop the other candidate from being registered as the ruling party candidate. The High Court agreed with the applicant and issued a Court order barring the other candidate from registering as a candidate.

Pursuant to the Court Order, the Returning Officer refused the nomination of the ruling party candidate. The ruling party again returned to the High Court to contest the IEC refusal to accept the registration of its candidate, but lost with costs.

When the IEC announced that it would go ahead with the elections, even without the ruling party candidate, the ruling party Electoral Board Chairman was quoted as saying that his party still had hopes of contesting the bi-election because President Khama has the powers to withdraw the bi-election writ and issue a new one. In an urgent application to the Court of Appeal, the ruling BDP asked the Court to review and set aside the IEC’s decision to refuse to accept the nomination papers of its candidate.

Then, on 22 November 2013, a petition signed by about 1600 people from the constituency was handed to the District Commissioner, calling for the nullification of the existing writ and for a fresh writ for the bi-election to allow the ruling party to participate.

A day before the bi-elections, the President invoked section 46 of the Electoral Act, and postponed the bi-election from 23 November 2013 to 25 January 2014, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. The relevant section states that if the President is satisfied that it is in the public interest, he may by proclamation adjourn the poll to some other day.

On 11 December 2013 the Court of Appeal dismissed the BDP case with costs, meaning that the election would go ahead without the BDP candidate. When the bye-election eventually took place on the 25 January 2014, it was won by the opposition.

Botswana Congress Party candidate, much to the chagrin of the ruling BDP. What is interesting is that, throughout this saga, the IEC was completely marginalised. But a forensic report by a South African-based Forensic Document Consultant exposed the petition as fraudulent as some ruling BDP political activists had forged signatures of ‘petitioners’, hoping that the postponement would somehow assist the party to field a candidate.

Conclusion

The foregoing analysis of Botswana’s post-independence elections history is a departure from the traditional focus on the freeness of elections that has, over the years, been given considerable attention by several commentators and observers.

The analysis seeks to draw attention to factors critical to the fairness of elections. It is argued that, whilst elections have always been free to the extent that every eligible voter could vote, Botswana’s EMB is powerless to level the electoral playing field to ensure that elections are also fair.

The legal and political framework within which Botswana’s EMB operates is such that it would not have the ability or leverage to create a level playing field by ensuring that elections are also fair.

The most critical issues offairness raised in the analysis include the following: (1) Botswana’s EMB reliance on public officers who are bound by the Public Service Act to be loyal to the government of the day, (2) lack of equal access to public media and the abuse of public officers working for the state/public media as propagandists for the ruling party and (3) the choice of election date which is the prerogative of the President or his minister and therefore advantages the ruling party.

With regard to access to public media, which dominates the country’s media landscape, it has been pointed out that the state/public media are located in the Office of the President, and are part of the Executive arm of government.

Because of this arrangement, the ruling party is given extensive coverage, and the state/public media effectively ‘merchandises’ the ruling party, whilst the EMB remains impotent and unable to ensure equitable access of all political parties to these state resources.

The growing consensus is that the fairness of an election will require, inter alia, equal opportunity for all political parties (not just the ruling party) to publicly owned resources, including the media, to effectively sell or merchandise their products in the form of party manifestoes.

With regard to the elections dates, it has been pointed out that the election dates for both the general elections and bye-elections of members of parliament and local government are not set by the EMB, but by the Executive, who would obviously have a vested interest in the outcome of such elections.

The choice of the election date by the Executive gives the ruling party undue advantage, as this amount to using inside information. It can be argued that in establishing the EMB Botswana has not really made a clean break with the past.

The transition from government supervised elections to an independent electoral management model has not been fully completed. In this regard it can be argued that elections in Botswana will probably continue to be free, as has been the case for the last 11 general elections, but the elections will not necessarily be fair.

Simply put, the Botswana EMB can only ensure that elections in Botswana are conducted efficiently, properly and freely, but cannot deliver on the fourth component of its mandate, namely, that elections are also conducted fairly.

In this regard it is important to observe that neither the Botswana Constitution nor the Electoral Act expressly guarantees the independence of the IEC, something that is regarded by many as an unfortunate oversight, but which, on the basis of the foregoing assessment, may very well have been by design.


Article extracted from Monageng Mogalakwe (2015) An assessment of Botswana's electoral management body to deliver fair elections, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 33:1,105-120, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2015.1021210

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Seretse, Kgosi may walk free

30th October 2020
BAKANG SERETSE

The P250 million National Petroleum Fund (NPF) saga that has been before court since 2017 seems to be losing its momentum with a high possibility of it being thrown out as defence lawyers unmask incompetency on the part of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP).

The Gaborone High Court this week ruled that the decision by the State to prosecute Justice Zein Kebonang and his twin brother, Sadique Kebonang has been reviewed and set aside. The two brothers have now been cleared of the charges that where laid against them three years ago.

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Understanding the US Electoral College and key election issues 

28th October 2020
Mark J Rozell

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.

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Masisi to make things right with Dangote

26th October 2020

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.

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