Botswana’s political parties have said they are prepared to identify council by-elections aspirants if a date is set. The different parties are hopeful that when the State of Emergency (SoE) elapses at the end of this month, the writ of by-elections might be issued by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Eric Molale.
Failure to fill the vacancies is against the IEC Act, which stipulates that where a vacancy exists it should be filled within three months following in cases of either the death or resignation of a sitting councillor.
The ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) through its spokesperson Kagelelo Kentse said they await guidance from the IEC on how and when the by-elections would be held owing to COVID-19 protocols.
“The end of SoE does not mean COVID-19 is over so we must still be cognisant of that. With that said, the BDP will then do its internal processes to identify candidates for the wards,” Kentse said in an interview Wednesday.
“We are always ready as the BDP but we acknowledge that the campaign will not be usual because of the current health situation in the country but people of those wards deserve representation at various councils.”
Secretary-general of the Alliance for Progressives, Phenyo Butale said the opposition bloc has been ready for council seat bye-elections to be held in the 11 wards.
“That is the reason why we signed a Memorandum of Agreement on how we are going to work together in some by-elections. Residents for those wards have long been denied representation. Elections could be held while still observing health protocols. I believe IEC is already thinking on the method that they believe could work for our system.”
Responding to Mmegi enquiries, the University of Botswana political science lecturer Mokaloba Mokaloba said: “We have to move on and be able to live with COVID-19, other countries like Zambia held elections recently and South Africa is also moving towards its local government elections. We, therefore, should have no problem holding council by-elections.”
IEC manager of elections affairs and field operations, Dintle Rapoo said elections to fill the vacancies could not be held due to the SoE.
He revealed the IEC is ready to hold by-elections and it will put new measures in place in order to observe health protocols.
“The number of polling stations will be increased so that there is social distancing and to avoid people queuing in one or two polling stations,” Rapoo said.
“Again some observers will ensure that the line for voting is not long and it has less than 50 people to avoid crowding. Our officers will have to speed up the process and people will not be allowed to be standing or sitting around the polling stations. We will enforce the security to make sure that we all adhere to health protocols. We will have online training with stakeholders so that they could appreciate some of the changes.”
He said some council seats have been vacant for more than a year.
“For example, Boseja South ward in the Mochudi East constituency and Metsimotlhabe which falls under Gabane/ Mmankgodi constituency have been vacant for 18 months, Tamasane ward in the Mmadinare constituency has been without a councillor for 13 months, Ga Molapo at Goodhope/Mabule constituency has been vacant for seven months, while other wards have been vacant for three months or less,” he added.
“Elections to fill the vacancies could not be held due to the SoE. Therefore, the Act in the meantime remains suspended like other Acts.”
Rapoo added that because of COVID-19, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development had not issued a writ of elections for any of the vacant posts.
He also expressed concern that stakeholder meetings are not being held due to the pandemic. This is because the meetings require many people to gather which is against the health protocols, noting that despite that the gatherings are important because they improve the way elections are run.
“Stakeholder consultation meetings help us to educate people about elections. At such meetings, they come up with ideas that they believe could contribute to free and fair elections,” he said.
Rapoo also said the IEC is benchmarking from other countries, which have been holding elections during this time in order to find ways on how it can hold elections without transmitting the virus.