'Botswana democracy under siege'


A professor at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has set off warning bells on the country’s democracy following recent court dismissals of the electoral petitions against the 2019 General Election results.

IDEA Regional director for Africa and West Asia, Adebayo Olukoshi has warned that Botswana’s democracy is under siege.

Speaking at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) 2019 general elections evaluation workshop that was held this week at Avani Hotel, Olukoshi said the 2019 general elections attracted high costs from political parties.

Olukoshi, who holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Leeds, said: “The 2019 General Election has proven that some people voted candidates they do not want for monetary purpose. People were forced to get a picture of a ballot paper as evidence on how he/she has voted for one to be paid. This is bad for the country and its democracy. It is time Botswana has what is called election management body, which deals with auditing parties and candidates. There must be rules and regulations that set the amount of money that each party and candidate are expected to use, if one exceeds that amount then he/she must be made to lose that seat”.

The professor said the reason political parties were using large sums of money that they cannot account for is failure by the government to fund them.

In addition, Olukoshi said last year’s general elections were the most highly contested and advised that there must be clear regulations that the incumbent should not use state resources to disadvantage rivals. “Again it is also important to always have that which regulates behaviour of politicians even at the rallies. You can have a situation where politicians say whatever they want. Politicians should account to the voters. They are in those positions because of voters,” he said.

However, IEC secretary Keireng Zuze said some of the challenges they face include repeal of the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 enacted very late in 2019 on the eve of the general elections, lack of legal mandate for IEC to conduct civic and voter education, manual nature of the voter registration process which is strenuous, labour intensive, time consuming and prone to human error, low number of Batswana who registered for elections (73% vs 80% target), and the unspecified period within which National Assembly by-election must be conducted (for Local Gov’t = 90 days).

“Tight timelines between nomination and polling day, very limited time for printing of ballot papers, distribution of election materials and the conduct of diaspora, advance polls and abuse of Social Media/fake news,” she further mentioned.

She said challenges present an opportunity for engagement with key stakeholders to enhance electoral processes in preparation for 2024 general elections. 

Meanwhile, the IEC chairperson Justice Abednego Tafa said it is in their best interest as the Commission to ensure that Botswana elections are conducted in a free, fair, and credible manner.

 Tafa said it was upon the IEC to ensure that the legal framework is followed religiously, to further instil the healthy and competitive environment for peaceful electoral processes.

“Let me highlight that continuous research in the area of elections is critical. It will provide insight into our functions and assist in devising institutionalised mechanisms to better control some of our burning platforms. For instance, the voter apathy study is critical since the last one was done in 2002. It is in this regard that as a Commission that we have started collaborating with the University of Botswana, Statistics Botswana and other organisations,” he said.

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