The 2013 Bulela Ditswe elections were so problematic that even well-known opposition activists registered as Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) members just for the primaries.
This is one of the findings of the Siele Commission appointed by President Ian Khama to review Bulela Ditswe and to make recommendations on how the system could be improved following the 2014 general elections.
The Commission was led by former cabinet minister, Peter Siele and comprised 12 members from all the regions.
The Commission said it was bad that some voters were listed as deceased in the voters’ roll and were denied to vote even when they presented themselves at the polling stations.
During the 2013 Bulela Ditswe season, a record 108 complaints were lodged with the party about the primary election process.
“This in turn led to another record 38 and 254 independent candidates (mekoko) for council and parliament respectively.
“This was a first in the history of the party. This record number of mekoko, as well as the performance of the party in the 2014 general elections, raised a number of questions about the Bulela Ditswe system.
Some questioned whether it is still good for the party, while others called for its discontinuation,” wrote Siele in a leaked report to Mmegi.
In its review of the Bulela Ditswe system, the Commission sought to answer the following questions:
Is the system of Bulela Ditswe still working for the BDP?
Why were there so many problems?
What was the nature of these problems?
Can this system be fixed and how?
• Does the party still have to continue with it, and if not what is the alternative that can be pursued to unite the party?
From the examination of the reports that were received, Siele said it was clear that the 2013 Bulela Ditswe was characterised by a number of problems leading to outcomes being rejected by some members.
“In fact, while the high numbers of mekoko can easily be explained away as an act of indiscipline on the part of members, it would be helpful to look at the issue much more broadly as an act of rejection of the system by some democrats who felt that some results were not reflective of the will of democrats and therefore lacked legitimacy.”
The ex-minister of Local Development and Rural Development said the success of any election is dependent on having a credible voters’ roll with full security features.
He said the voters’ roll used in the 2013 Bulela Ditswe had a number of challenges. It was found that staunch BDP members holding life membership cards were omitted in the voters’ roll.
There are allegations that some names were removed in order to advantage some candidates who were favoured by workers at Tsholetsa House.
Some occurrences listed in the findings were that some members whose names were in the voters’ roll did not have cards.
Voters’ cards were distributed late in the constituencies and some members never got them. Siele also said some of the cards were purposely sent to wrong constituencies.
Voter trafficking was a big problem due to lack of controls, he said, alluding that well-known opposition activists registered as BDP members just for BDP primaries in what is commonly known as ntlodisa melatswana.
The voters’ roll lacked secure features and dishonest officials included and removed people freely. It was also found out that some candidates were denied access to the voters’ rolls while some were favoured.
“Voters’ rolls were not made available prior to the election for inspection by members.”
Some polling officers were alleged to have been rude and uncooperative. It was said the management of election materials was so poor that in some areas these were used by some candidates to inflate their numbers.
Some of the voters were able to vote more than once and those voters who could not read or write and those who are visually impaired posed a problem, the commission found.
“The security of their votes was jeopardised by some of the corrupt polling officers who were favouring some of the candidates.
“The problems with the voters’ roll as outlined above have a lot to do with logistics deficiencies at Tsholetsa.
“Members are of the view that these logistical problems were indicative of weak systems and controls at Tsholetsa and therefore became a fertile ground for breeding dishonesty in the conduct of the 2013 primary elections.
“Some of the regions indicate that Tsholetsa is compromised and does not have the capacity to run primary elections.
“As a result of frustration and sometimes anger experienced in some regions, there were high levels of frustration among some of the democrats particularly, because communication from Tsholetsa was quite often below expectation.
“Some regions have even alleged that some lost primaries because of some of the workers at Tsholetsa.”
The underperformance of the structures also came under attack from the Commission. Siele said the role of the structures during primary elections is critical. It is alleged that some structures favoured some candidates and that vetting was poorly done.
The credibility of the electoral board headed by well-known attorney Parks Tafa was also questioned.
“The credibility and performance of The Electoral Board was an issue which was also problematic.
“Some structures raised issues of perceived conflict of interest by some members of the Electoral Board.
“Its role was seen by some democrats as not being clear or helpful and as such they said that going forward, the role of this structure must be interrogated.”
The Commission’s recommendations emphasised that, “the problems with the voters’ roll, the registration process, the issues of logistics and enforcement of party rules and regulations, are the key areas which the party should address if Bulela Ditswe is to serve its purpose of selecting candidates, as opposed to destabilising the party”.
The Commission further recommended:
A firm deadline for membership registration (6-12 months) before primary elections;
Registration of membership and administration of elections to be done by party structures (cells, ward and branch) in collaboration with Tsholetsa. This is the only way of ensuring that only the right people will be in the roll;
Tsholetsa should not be involved in the registration of members or even compilation of the voters’ roll. This should be outsourced to a private company;
A voter register to be kept by structures and not Tsholetsa; Membership should be life and charged at P100 and an annual subscription of P5, and More clear and consistent communication between party structures and Tsholetsa.
In conclusion Siele wrote: “We believe as the Commission that democrats still believe that the system is still relevant and more democratic.
“However, they lament the way in which the human element has corrupted it, leading to some of the undesirable outcomes that were observed in 2013.
“It is clear that, without a credible voters roll with robust and secure security features, it will not be possible for the party to get any different Bulela Ditswe even in the future.
“This is why it is important that all these deficiencies enumerated in this report be addressed, and that this should not wait for the next elections.
“The human element will always be the looming danger for any election system. However, robust systems are a precondition for the delivery of fair and credible election outcomes.”
Reached for comment the BDP secretary general Botsalo Ntuane said, “Indeed the report was discussed extensively and generated plenty of constructive proposals.
“Ultimately it was adopted by the congress with certain amendments that we will be refining. Clearly democrats remain in favour of Bulela Ditswe but in improved form.”