FRANCISTOWN: With only a few months before the tempestuous 2019 general elections, temperatures have already reached fever pitch as politicians leave no stones unturned in their bid to make sure they are not robbed of victory.
As if a reflection of the exciting mood, on Tuesday, the Francistown Magistrate’s Court was a beehive of political activities as some opposition council candidates registered objections with the courts for barring some potential registered voters from voting in the 2019 general elections.
The applicants’ reasons for taking the court route stemmed from their strong convictions (correct in a few occasions but baseless in most) that the voters were trafficked to register to vote in wards where they do not have principal residences. Political tensions were tense and palpable within the courts’ precinct.
The cases attracted some well-known political activists such as former Deputy speaker of the National Assembly Pono Moatlhodi. Moatlhodi is currently an Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidate in Tonota constituency. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Francistown West parliamentary candidate, Ignatius Moswaane was also in court.
A host of council hopefuls in the three Francistown constituencies attended the cases with their supporters from across the political spectrum. The objections reflects that while a host of local and international organisations regards Botswana’s elections as free and fair mostly because they are not characterised by strife as it is the case in many African countries, the situation on the ground before the elections paints a different picture. A lot of people are trafficked to vote where they do not reside in order to give some political candidates leverage over their competitors.
Most of the international observer missions mostly come to Botswana a few days before the elections are held. Therefore, they are not privy to what happens during the elections registration process before the elections are held.
According to section 18 (3) of Botswana’s Electoral Act which deals with objections, the principal registration officer shall on receipt of an objection under this section forthwith set down the objection for hearing before a magistrate and the magistrate shall appoint a place and a date as early as is practicable for the hearing of the objection. Hence, it was not surprising that opposition candidates felt that some of their competitors have used underhand tactics to swindle them of their anticipated victory and rushed to court in a bid to guard against any electoral malpractice.
The courts started late around 4 pm as opposed to 2 pm as earlier
This was probably partly due to the fact that magistrates rarely handle electoral disputes since general elections happen once after every five years. Although he wanted to ascertain how some names he was not familiar with ended up in the Kanana ward voters’ roll in the Francistown West constituency, Ace Ntheetsang managed to get two voters struck off the roll.
Ntheetsang is a former BDP Kanana councillor who defected from the party after losing primary elections before the 2014 general elections. After defecting the BDP, he stood as an independent candidate in the 2014 general elections but lost. He is now the council candidate for the Alliance for Progressives (AP) in the same ward.
Hearings for most of the objections that Ntheetsang brought before Magistrate Kaveri Kapeko were postponed to June 5 to allow for service because the allegedly trafficked voters were not served with subpoenas ordering them to attend court on Tuesday.
In another development, political temperatures also reached boiling point in courtroom three where Neo Sefume-a UDC council candidate in Tholodi ward in the Tonota constituency- registered objections similar to Ntheetsang’s before Magistrate Cele Lebakeng. Sefume’s efforts bore fruits as he managed to convince the court to struck off three people from the voters’ roll. The same situation also obtained before Magistrate Game Mooketsi in courtroom two where an independent candidate objected about the registration of some voters in his ward in Tonota.
At the time of going to press, this publication was unable to get the names of the person who had lodged objections with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and how he fared.
However, Mmegi can ascertain that the person who lodged the complaints with the IEC is a former BDP councillor in the Tonota constituency. The person lost the party’s recent primary elections but has now decided to stand as an independent candidate.
The numbers of people who were struck off the electoral rolls may seem insignificant but in politics they matter a lot.
For example, in a by-election that was held at Mokoboxane ward (Boteti constituency) in 2012, a BDP council candidate defeated his Botswana National Front (BNF) counterpart by just one vote.
A similar situation happened in Bontleng ward in Gaborone in the past.