He told Ghanaians, who are going to the polls next month, that Botswana is recognised as a model of democracy in Africa because the leadership has always embraced stakeholders both in the conduct of elections and policy formulation.Mogae said some of the lessons he learnt as a politician was that "the government must always listen to the public and political pressures build up and respond in a considered manner and in the best interest of peace and stability of the country".
A former winner of the Mo Ibrahim award, Mogae said that the stakeholders in any elections are "citizens, political parties, civil society organisations, election observers, media, law enforcement agencies, candidates and their functionaries"."These stakeholders determine the credibility of the elections and their involvement is critical," Mogae told his audience who included members of the board of Centre for Democracy and Development, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Professor Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, who is also a member of the Mo Ibrahim's technical committee on the Governance Index.
"From independence Botswana chose a multi-party governance system and has conducted 10 multi-party elections since then. "On the whole our elections have been peaceful and voter participation rates have been above 60 percent except in 1974 when it fell below 40 percent and it was reported that the then generally illiterate adult voter population was complacent and satisfied with the way the country was run and decided there was no need to vote," he said.
But Mogae conceded that it would be incorrect to claim that Botswana's elections have been smooth. "We have gone through ups and downs in the conduct of our elections. We have had threats to boycott elections and have had electoral dispute cases that were settled in court," he said.The former president cited two major issues throughout the first six electoral periods, revolved around the impartiality of the administration of elections on the one hand and extension of participation to more young people and citizens living outside the country on the other.
"On the first one of impartiality, the opposition parties strongly felt that they could not trust the election administration office being housed in the Office of the President (OP). They insisted that an independent election body should be established and that it must be administered outside a government ministry," said Mogae.Mogae recalled that the pressure by the opposition parties was given momentum in 1984 when during the elections a ballot box in the high profile Gaborone South constituency went missing â "the infamous Tshiamo Box".
The constituency was contested by the then vice president of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the Leader of the leading opposition, Botswana National Front (BNF)."I happened at the time to be the permanent secretary to the President, which means I was head of the public service and therefore supervisor of the elections. We just could not say how the box went missing, but its disappearance was enough to cause a re-election," said Mogae.
In the initial count where the box was missing the vice president had won the constituency by a relative slim margin. The BNF, whose candidate had lost, took the matter to court and the latter ordered a re-election, which was subsequently won by the Leader of Opposition.
"The VP was then specially elected into Parliament. Two lessons are evident from this incident: The first is that when election disputes arise, the rule of law must be allowed to take its course. Secondly, it is important to implement the decision of the court regardless of the potential consequences," says Mogae.Mogae says Botswana's experience in election management evolved with time, as the government continued to reflect on how best to improve on several aspects of elections conduct.
"The opposition's pressure was also building and the elections in 1989 had other cases which called for re-election mainly at local council government level. In the mid-1990s government decided to consult with the nation on a number of electoral reforms," said Mogae.
A referendum was conducted in 1997 on whether or not the elections should be administered by an independent elections body; the voting age should be lowered from 21 to 18 years, the citizens living outside the country should be allowed to vote and whether or not the term of office of the President should be limited to two terms of five years each.
"The results of the referendum were on the affirmative on all counts and the Constitution was duly amended in 1998," said Mogae. He added that that this constitutional amendment through which the ruling party risked losing power has served Botswana very well up to date."The number of election disputes has reduced and the stakeholders' confidence in the impartial administration of elections is very high. Independent commissioners conduct elections with the diligence that they deserve," he said.
Mogae further concedes that there are a number of lessons from this electoral reform case study. "The first is that if public and political pressures build up, the government must respond in a considered manner and in the best interest of peace and stability of the country. In our case, what we did as the ruling party served the course of democracy and good governance," he says.
"The second lesson is that the rule of law must again take precedence and direct the process of electoral reforms and do not leave the process to the politicians," said Mogae.The third lesson is that there are citizens who are ready to work as impartial leaders in the interest of the country and not for any one political party."We need to make use of such people to instill confidence in the electoral process," Mogae said.
Mogae, who stepped down in 2008, pointed out that central to Botswana's experience has been "our role as leaders to implement a comprehensive programme of social and political engineering aimed at building a broad consensus for the governance of the country". "One of the first policy measures we took at independence was to ensure a peaceful and purposeful articulation between traditional and modern governance institutions and this involved reforming key traditional institutions such as chieftaincy and land administration," he said.
But the process, he said, was one of the most difficult and turbulent political experiences."The chiefs were unwilling to have their powers decentralised to more democratically elected institutions."The worst case came in 1967 when Chief Bathoen II Gaseitsiwe resigned as chief and joined the BNF. "This was two years before the 1969 elections, where he stood against the then vice president, Sir Ketumile Masire. The chief won the constituency," recalled Mogae, adding that other chiefs continued to pose a threat to the country's political stability."But it was government's determination to reform local government and find legitimate roles for the chiefs without compromising on the democratisation goal. Botswana's successful articulation of traditional and modern institutions of governance is hailed as a model of success," said Mogae. (SPA)