Over the last two months, Botswana became detached from its ways.
Custom was thrown outside the window.In moments yet to be uncovered, we have become a new being. The 2019 elections were the road to Damascus.
On December 12, 2019 the United Kingdom (UK) went to a snap general election to break the Brexit impasse. It was a third election in five years, with this ballot expected to shape how the UK finally leaves the European Union (EU) three years after the referendum. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party and main rival Jeremy Corbyn of Labour Party posed radically opposed proposals to end years of political deadlock over the EU exit.
MPs agreed on an early general election in October 2019, in an attempt to end months of fractious political disagreements. Before October, MPs had repeatedly rejected Theresa May’s divorce deal, forcing her resignation. Parliament then moved to block successor Johnson from pushing a revised Withdrawal Agreement. Voters, 46 million in number, and deeply divided over Brexit, finally got to have their say.
In the 2017 elections, the Conservative Party did not obtain a majority forcing it to govern in minority with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. With no apparent majority amongst MPs for any course of action over Brexit – there were three requests to delay the UK’s departure, hence an election appeared to be the natural endgame. Within seven hours of voting, the Conservatives had crossed the 326 threshold to form a majority. The total tally of 365 MPs sees Boris Johnson as the most successful Tory PM since the 80’s of Margaret Thatcher. Johnson also retained his seat as Uxbridge and South Ruiship MP fending off the challenge of Labour candidate Ali Minali, of Iranian descent. People voted for Brexit to be done.
Exit polls gave Conservatives a winning margin of 358 to 368 with Labour Party projected to get 193 to 203 seats. True to prediction, the Labour Party could only go up to the 203, a performance comparable to the worst year of 1935. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn retained Islington North. Labour took a drubbing, losing 53 seats from previous election. Corbyn will not lead Labour to another election.
British elections have in their culture a contest between constituencies to release results fastest. Sunderland South holds the record for fastest ever result in 2015, returning Labour MP just 48 minutes after the polls closed. Sunderland and Newcastle lead the counting rivalry which is as fiery as footballing rivalry between Newcastle United and Sunderland Black Cats. Sunderland won this coveted title in 1992 and defended it until 2015 only for rivals Newcastle to snatch it in 2017.
Politics is much about mathematics just as it is about policy of sound minds. With the 2019 elections, the Tories got a majority of 78. Boris Johnson’s messaging was about parliament blocking Brexit. All intellect and resources in crafting the Tory manifesto was dedicated to a single issue – Brexit. The disastrous result certainly represented a sweeping repudiation of Corbyn.
In January, the new Parliament will most likely pass Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Bill, but it will take at least another year of negotiations with Brussels for his government to reach a final exit agreement with the EU. A week later, it’s business as usual in the UK. Life goes on. A seamless election requires the nuts and bolts to be secured in place. The culture of seamless elections continues in the UK. Here at home, the outcome of the 12th election is rather different. Two months since the elections, the country is very much on standstill. Thankfully, the outcome is better than Kenya and Zimbabwe in 2008. But that’s it. We have broken our virginity and entered the realm of disruptive elections. When addressing the media upon return from an international visit in Kenya, President Mokgweetsi Masisi did not have kind words for the petitioners – labelling them as “condescending and undermining
Thirteen Parliamentary seats have made their way to the courts by way of petitions alongside six from council wards. This is unprecedented. Never in the history of Botswana have so many results been disputed and subsequently advanced to the court for adjudication as a single occurrence. This is a new phenomenon, a terrible preceptor for a court-dependent democracy where elections will be decided in the courtroom.
Election disputes are highly sensitive and controversial so much that the process of disposing them seems as if it is the judiciary itself that is on trial. The role and place of the judiciary in electoral disputes revolves around the question of whether “the judiciary should give voice to the choices of the people without bowing and being slavish to the technicalities of the law and the Constitution.” Conversely is whether the judiciary is properly positioned to substitute its own will and decisions as the decisions of Batswana without being accused of engaging in judicial tyranny. Arguments in courts this week have shown that there are as many pitfalls and controversies associated with election petitions. This week alone was as good as agonising, frustrating and often a fruitless exercise for both petitioners and the democratic enterprise. Ironically, an election petition is aimed to open a window of justice to the former and uphold and strengthen the latter.
Judges of the High Court will come under severe attack next week when they deliver an outcome on the preliminary points. Should all judges dismiss all preliminary points, and allow the matter to progress to trial, this is bound to upset BDP sympathisers. Equally UDC supporters will feel aggrieved if the matter is dismissed before trial. A substantial number of citizens will question then the role of the judiciary as a true arbiter in electoral matters.
If the preliminary points are upheld at the High Court, the UDC will have no choice but to approach the Court of Appeal (CoA). The BDP might just be given permission to seek redress at the CoA should the preliminary points be dismissed, but chances are the judiciary will opt for the entire case to be listened to so that the appeal is not piecemeal. Once off the champagne bottle, the cork cannot fit that bottle. The bolts and nuts were truly not secured in upstream election preparation. IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba admitted with ease the widespread irregularities. The affidavits by BDP activists Moemedi Baikalafi, Emmanuel Mohaladi and Selaledi also give worrying detail of double registration, double voting, and multiplicities of other irregularities. One can only pray. Botswana has departed from the era of seamless elections, a flagship sustained since 1965. To expect elections to be a normal affair after today is pie in the sky. We have become a different nation. President Uhuru Kenyatta can be credited for efforts in nation building post the 2016 elections. Extending gestures of peace and to promote peace and reconciliation with rival Raila Odinga was unparalleled. One can only hope the visit to Kenya offered this lesson too.
The Fall of Man is recorded in the book of Genesis. Shortly after being made in the image of God, man was tested – and failed the test. Bon Jovi’s chorus “It’s my life” and Frank Sinatra’s sublime “I did it my way” are light hearted echoes of this desire. Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kempf” and North Korea’s Kim Jong-II cult personality are much darker echoes. All are exhibits of the trend and continuation of Adam’s rebellion. Botswana’s past elections explains so much of human life taken for granted. In our current disposition we will steal from each other. That’s why nations decay. Every political system eventually collapses on itself.