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Observers Declare Poll Free, Fair But Urge Reforms

MQONDISI DUBE
Three election observer missions have declared the Botswana’s recent general election as free and fair, but recommended a raft of reforms to ensure a smooth process.

The SADC Election Observation Mission (SEOM), African Union Election Observation Mission and Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC countries were all in agreement that the polls were free and fair.

However, the three bodies made recommendations in order to improve the electoral process. SEOM head, Dr Sibusiso Moyo said the mission had questioned the participation of traditional leaders in the elections.

He said this was likely to compromise the electoral process as traditional leaders wield influence on their subjects.

This was seen as a veiled reference to former president, Ian Khama, who is the paramount chief of the Bangwato.

“Traditional leaders, particularly chiefs have multiple roles, which include an overlap between executive, judiciary and legislative powers. Above all these some traditional leaders are politicians.

Even where they are not politicians, they exercise a significant influence in the political voting choices of their subjects, which may not be desirable in a democratic context,” Moyo said.

The observers also warned against foreign funding for contesting parties, arguing, this could compromise the sovereignty of the country. Instead, they urged the government to consider political funding for contesting parties.

The State media was praised for covering all contesting parties. “The mission observed a tremendous improvement in the manner with which the state owned media covered the

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contesting parties and candidates, compared to the situation in the 2014 general elections.

State media gave unbiased coverage to the campaign and events of all relevant stakeholders,” Moyo said. The three bodies expressed concern at the low women participation, despite they being the majority voters, at more than 55%.

Only three women made it to the National Assembly. The Independent Electoral Commission was urged to improve its voters’ roll, and also allow continuous registration, such that voters are not disenfranchised.

There were incidences where voters were turned away on polling day, as their names did not appear on the voters’ roll.

In one bizarre case, a woman in Palapye was turned away after she was mistakenly declared dead, and had therefore, been struck off the voters’ roll.

The observers recommended the counting of ballots at respective polling stations, rather than transporting them to a counting centre.

This, they argued, could compromise the safety of the boxes during transportation, which in turn could affect the integrity of the electoral process.

AU mission head, Fatoumata Tambajang urged the government to lift a ban on advertising for private media, to open the media space.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party convincingly won the hotly contested election, bagging 38 of the 57 National Assembly seats.



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