Politicians afraid new system could disenfranchise voters

A woman walks into a polling station FILE PIC
A woman walks into a polling station FILE PIC

FRANCISTOWN: Politicians from across the political divide are worried the newly introduced Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration could mislead the public and encourage voter apathy.

Under the system, voters register at one central point in the whole constituency. The latest move by the IEC is complete opposite to what used to happen in the past when another round of supplementary registration was opened.

In the past, voters used to register where they resided in their wards, but they are now forced register at one central point. For example in Francistown, where there are three constituencies, voters register at the IEC offices at Ntshe House. The latest move by the IEC has left politicians fuming saying that the election management body has misled the public as voters were expecting that they were going to cast their votes at various polling stations in their wards just like in the past.

The IEC introduced the ongoing constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration exercise because during the general voters’ registration exercise last year, only 750,830 people registered against the IEC target of 1,592,350.

BDP parliamentary candidate for Francistown West, Ignatius Moswaane described the constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration as a ‘farce’ and a ‘sham’.  He said the IEC did not honour its promise of opening an office for constituency-based registration in each constituency as it had promised earlier.

A displeased Moswaane added that the move by the IEC is now impoverishing people in his constituency who have to incur travelling expenses to go to Ntshe House for registration.

He wondered if it was really possible and practical for potential voters to travel for registration at Ntshe House while they failed to register when the polling stations were located on their doorsteps in their wards.

The situation, Moswaane lamented, is costly to candidates because they now incur costs of transporting people to Ntshe House for registration purposes. This, Moswaane said, has the potential to disenfranchise a lot of underprivileged people since most of them have little or no money for transport.

“This is just a thoughtless move. How can the poor spend money to go and register in order to vote for the rich? What do they benefit from that? These are some of the complaints that are worrying my constituents,” he said.

He pleaded with the IEC to reconsider its decision with immediate effect and introduce polling station-based supplementary registration so that more people can register for the elections.

Tati East MP, Samson Guma Moyo echoed Moswaane’s sentiments. He said the IEC has failed the people through the ongoing registration exercise.  He added that the elections body did not fulfil its promise of introducing polling station-based voters’ registration, forcing people in his constituency to travel as far as Masunga for registration purposes.

Guma said it is a pity that the unemployed in his constituency like those from Patayamatebele, Matopi and Matsiloje use their money to go and register in Masunga, which is hundreds of kilometres away. “The government should not make people to suffer just for the sake of elections. It should make sure that people register for elections near where they live,” said Guma.

He added that the IEC action is also weighing heavily on the pockets of politicians because voters expect them to give them money to go and register at a central registration place, which is far.  The Tati East legislator also cried out that the constituency-based voters’ registration exercise is promoting voter-trafficking, which can cause crisis and should be stopped forthwith.

“We caught one of the registering clerks conducting registration of a voter over the phone which is illegal. If such things can take place, more people can be easily trafficked from different locations across the country,” Guma said, adding that the IEC should as a matter of urgency introduce the polling stations supplementary-based voters’ registration. An opposition candidate for the UDC at Shashe West constituency, Alfred Mashungwa also criticised the constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration exercise. The aspiring Parliamentary candidate said IEC has now transferred its expenses to politicians. In his constituency, which is also broad, Mashungwa lamented that candidates transport constituents from as far as Matsitama to Sebina to register. Just like his colleagues from across the political spectrum, Mashungwa is of the view that the constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration exercise fuels voter-trafficking. He concluded by saying that the constituency- based supplementary voters’ registration exercise was pointless and would not bear any fruits, which the IEC had intended to achieve.  Phillip Matante East council candidate Uyapo Nyeku of the Alliance for Progressives also roasted the IEC over hot coals for its move, which he described as ill-advised and useless.

Nyeku said the IEC is causing people to travel long distances to register, which comes with a burden of costs to voters since many people in Botswana are unemployed and cannot afford the transport fares. Nyeku said council and Parliamentary candidates are now forced to give people money so that they can register for the general elections.  “They tell us if we don’t give them money to register they will vote our competitors.”

Nyeku indicated that people in Philip Matante East have registered poorly in the general voters’ registration exercise and even now they are dragging their feet to do so.  He requested that the IEC must stop the constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration exercise and just stick to the polling station-based supplementary one. The IEC principal elections officer in Francistown, Nyanga Nyanga declined to comment on the concerns of the politicians.

“The constituency-based supplementary voters’ registration is taking place according to Section 8 of the Electoral Act,” said Nyanga.

However, Nyanga said he was optimistic that the IEC would reach its target of registering as many people as it can before the current registration exercise closes on March 31.  He said so far 228 people have already registered in all the three Francistown constituencies since the exercise started last year in December.

Giving a breakdown of how people registered, Nyanga said 78, 102 and 48 people registered to vote in Francistown West, East and South respectively.

He added that the IECwas yet to decide on the dates of when the polling station-based supplementary voters’ registration will take place.

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