In this piece I intend to interrogate whether the registration of elections in Botswana is free and fair. Also, whether there is need to apply a set of safeguards against abuse by interested parties during the registration exercise intending to boost their chances during polling.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has set the period between September 3 and November 11, 2018 for registration of the 2019 General Elections. It is quite apparent that the amended Electoral Act has not come into effect despite its enactment by Parliament at some point at night in December 2016 or thereabout.
It has remained On Notice since assented to by the President, as is the case with every Act of Parliament before it becomes part of our laws. Should the Act not come into effect, it may only apply to some future elections after the 2019 General Elections. The current electoral law shall therefore continue to be the law governing our elections.
Assuming that the amended Act would not apply for the 2019 General Elections, it is safe to submit that September 3 to November 11, 2018 registration is in terms of Part III of the current Act.
I shall also assume that section 5 of the Electoral Act, which empowers the secretary of the IEC to divide each constituency into polling districts after a delimitation exercise does not apply for the reasons that we are still in the current status of the past exercise.
In terms of section 3 of the Electoral Act, the secretary of the IEC, subject to the directions and supervision of the Commission ‘issue to election officers and registration officers such instructions as [s]he may deem necessary to ensure effective execution of the provisions of this Act...’.
Generally, politicians and interested parties tend to concentrate on the election itself rather than registration process, which is the key to a free and fair poll. During the registration exercise for the 2014 General Elections, I recall reading a story in one of the local newspapers of the candidates who provided some identity cards (Omang) to a registration officer around Lobatse for registration of voters who did not appear at the polling station outside registration hours.
Although we paid scant attention to the incident, it should have sounded an alarm bell to wake us up that the system was prone to be abused willy-nilly, and as usual in this Republic we tend to forget quickly and move on as if nothing had happened. Unlike on polling day, where the Act provides under section 49 for polling agents from parties to observe the voting, section 4 of the Act only permits registration officers to undertake the registration exercise without independent observers. It is probably an assumption that the registration is foolproof for there is no provision for political parties to appoint observers during registration, yet it is a fact that the IEC does this exercise through temporary personnel vulnerable to all
In the absence of any provision to that effect, a political party representative or politician who may want to observe the registration may be declared an undesirable person within the precincts of the polling station by the registration officer.
As stated above, these registration officers and from where they are sourced, is a matter within the duties of the Secretary as directed and supervised by the Commission. This is a serious loophole which the Electoral Act is failing the voter’s right to a free and fair election.
It is public knowledge that the IEC has no manpower of its own to do this important exercise, but depends on temporary engaged personnel who have no experience whatsoever except the short induction course after engagement.
These registration personnel usually come from within the area of registration. The worst part of it is the keeping of the voting materials allocated to each polling station. It is a fact that each registration officer for a polling station keeps registration materials at all times under their care at their own homes until the exercise is concluded. What do you make of this?
How high is the temptation by unscrupulous persons with vested interest to decide the outcome of an election in their favour by taking advantage of the loophole to provide identity cards of their preferred voters for registration outside the provided time?
We should not and never treat the Lobatse incident as an isolated one. We had heard many such incidents within our own area in the past and they are a lot of us out there with the urge to want to determine the outcome of the election in our favour. Why not when the system is so tempting?
In my view, which I believe is shared by many, a free and fair election must begin from the date of registration to polling, and not the voting atmosphere and outcome only. We cannot therefore pride ourselves as a democracy conducting free and fair elections when our registration is conducted is such a manner. It is therefore proper to demand that the IEC provide a foolproof registration process before the commencement of the first registration and subsequent ones for the 2019 General Elections.
Lastly, I think this business of assembling hordes of our innocent public officers without experience to be in charge of our election process must as a matter of priority be reconsidered. It does not serve the best interest of our democracy, which is considered, wrongly by some, as a paragon of virtue in Africa.
* Morgan Moseki BCP member Francistown East writing in his personal capacity.