Vice President Slumber Tsogwane says Members of Parliament would live to regret tabling and passing a motion calling for direct election of the president. The motion was tabled by MP for Nata-Gweta Polson Majaga and passed by Parliament last week. Tsogwane told Parliament that it was wrong to have the motion during election year.
According to the vice president political reform is a very critical subject. He pointed out that it is not an easy topic that one can just subject to one while ignoring others.“We have to go and consult the people who have voted us to this Parliament. We cannot leave them behind, come and pass this motion without engaging them, because it is a very critical motion, as I have said, it will bring a lot of changes. We are in an election year, it will create a lot of perceptions,” said Tsogwane who is also MP for Boteti West.
The vice president indicated that when a subject is discussed during such a time, it has the potential of misdirecting some people or changing their focus to something else. “And this is where you experience voter apathy.” He explained that government has just engaged Batswana on another subject related to an election, being the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).
“We just dropped it, and now we are coming with another subject in an election year. A person who does not have the same understanding or same level of understanding as you MPs, you have to go and explain this to that person, and tell him or her why you are bringing such a subject during such a time, and what is the intention. “It is not a question of when it is going to be implemented, it is the historical context that we will be creating, and that is what people are going to refer to and start engaging their minds in, and some people are asking themselves a lot of questions,” said Tsogwane when debating the motion.
Tsogwane said it is not a bad motion, but the timing is also very critical, as well as culture and what underpins the country’s democracy. He revealed that he had tried, to engage Majaga regarding the motion, “but conveniently he has avoided me.”
He does not have any qualms with that as it is Majaga’s choice. “I do not have any problem, he should not think that I will think otherwise about him. I am very liberal, so there was no need for him to avoid me because I was going to engage him and consult with him further.”
Tsogwane said the country has just withstood the EVM storm and cannt afford to be distracted by another potentially divisive electoral reform in an elelction year. “We have a system which is serving us well and we want to change it in the election year. What is the urgency of trying to bring this motion now?”
Former Cabinet Minister, Daniel Kwelagobe, who also holds the distinction of being the longest servicing Botswana Democratic Party(BDP) secretary general, believes the envisaged use of Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs) is ill-adviced. DK, as he is popularly known, has been a Member of Parliament(MP) until 2014 when he lost Molepolole South to the Umbrella for Democratic Change(UDC). Currently an additional member of the party central committee, he is the past immediate chairman of the party.
“Elections are a very critical process of democarcy and each time when dealing with such processes, it is cardinal that there is proper consulation where you gather the views of the people. It does not help to consult when a decision has already been made and everything is cast in stone,” said Kwelagobe emphasising that what he is saying are his personal views. “I cannot understand what this reform is trying to remedy.
BDP primary elections register possibly more people than the Independent Electoral Commission(IEC) does for general elections. We are however able to run our primaries in one night,” noted Kwelagobe. The secret, he says, is firstly to increase the number of polling stations and also do the counting at the polling stations. “The IEC should do likewise because. This is possible because contesting parties and the IEC are represented at the polling stations,” he added.
Nor can he made sense of the cancellation of the supplimentary registration. “I cannot understand what motivated this amendment which I am told was done at night. The argument that it will close out voter traffiking is not sustainable because those determined to traffic will still do it during the general registration period,” observed Kwelagobe whose position is that the cancellation will only serve to disenfranchise people who failed to register not through a fault of their own. “Supplimentary registration gives such people a chance to register,” he observed.
The Independent Electoral Commission(IEC) will make a presentation on Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) at Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) National Council which starts today (Friday). IEC has introduced EVMs to be used for the first time in the 2019 General Election.
BDP Secretary General said the purpose of inviting IEC is to enable democrats to gain greater appreciation of how the machines work. It has however been alleged that the party decided to invite IEC to address its members as some were allegedly planning to bring a motion requesting government to suspend the use of the EVM in the 2019 General Election.
This comes after some people expressed skepticism, about the machine in areas which the IEC team visited to consult on the introduction of the EVM. Ntuane however stated that just like any stakeholder, especially as a political party and key player in elections, they found it fitting to play a part in their members being educated on the EVM. Bontle Marumolo ,an official at IEC- EVM office confirmed that her office, has been invited to make a presentation tomorrow at the BDP National Council.
There have been accusations that consultation was not done with the electorate who are directly affected by the introduction of the EVM prior to its introduction. The fear within some quarters of the BDP has been that the opposition could use failure to consult prior to the amendment of the Electoral Act to sway votes. EVM has sparked controversy, as there are claims that the machine could be manipulated during elections. Opposition parties have threatened to sue government if the machines are used in the election.
The opposition has also indicated that should the machines be used without a paper trail during the 2019 election then there would be no elections.
The opposition is insisting on the introduction of a security measure that would preserve the integrity of the electoral system. They want a voter verifiable paper trail (VVPT), which is basically a record of how votes were cast. Without such a system, it would be very easy to manipulate the electoral outcome; something that the opposition fears the BDP plans to do in 2019. The opposition has since petitioned Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale to ask for the introduction of the VVPT.
Some BDP members of Parliament have also expressed reservation about the machines especially the lack of consultation with all relevant stakeholders regarding the amendment of the Electoral Act to introduce the machines for voting. IEC is currently doing consultations across the country after Parliament approved the Bill, which has since been signed into law.
Umbrella for Democratic Change through its Vice President Ndaba Gaolathe wrote a paper titled “Introduction of the Electronic Voting Machines in Botswana” which was submitted to diplomatic missions, arguing that the EVM discussion caught the ruling party MPs unawares as it did all other MPs. He stated in the paper that this is not a surprise as it is consistent with the governance style of the current regime.
The recent amendment of the Electoral Act, which has, among other things, introduced electronic voting and the cancellation of supplimentary registration, has divided the nation right in the middle.
While one section seems happy with explanations that the machines will facilitate a faster voting and counting process, the other argues that the machines are intended to save the ruling Botswana Democratic Party(BDP) from losing power at the 2019 general elections. Matters are not helped by the fact that, incidentally, when electronic voting was introduced in Namibia in 2014, the ruling SWAPO improved its electoral fortunes to 77%. The party had registered 76% and 74% of the popular vote in the 2004 and 2009 parliamentary elections respectively. Stakeholders remain confused how the cancellation of supplementary registration will eliminate voter trafficking.
Singing the praises of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), former secretary of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Gabriel Seeletso, who is now doing consultancy work for the election management body, said that, besides making it possible for voters to spend less time queuing to cast their vote, the machines will eliminate spoilt ballots which sometimes bring about ties.
“The EVM will, therefore, improve the two key electoral processes of voting and counting,” he told stakeholders at Leseding community hall in the Francistown west constituency recently. He also explained the undesirability of ties in an election as they lead to by-elections which are expensive. EVM have been used since 1960 in America before their use spread to other parts of the world. In Africa, they were used for the first time in Namibia in that country’s 2014 general elections.
Unlike in Botswana, the use of EVM started after a lengthy engagement on the matter. EIS says discussions of introduction of EVMs in Namibian elections started in 2004. The need for reform was apparently given more impetus by the challenges faced by the country’s management body in the counting and tabulation process in the 2009 elections which had led to a delay in the announcement of the election results.
Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa contends that after the Namibian elections, “There is a general consensus among observer groups that electronic voting was largely successful in Namibia, with one observer mission even recommending its adoption by other Southern African countries, and their permanent adoption of electoral voting in Namibia.”
The raging debate currently underway on the EVMs has specifically to do with the issue of integrity. Ironically, one of the benefits of electronic voting is that, “It may reduce fraud.” As opponents of the EVM in Botswana have said, the problem with the new Act is that it does not provide for the use of a proper verification process. The 2014 Namibian Electoral Act introduced the requirement that the use of voting machines be subject to the simultaneous utilisation of a verifiable paper trail for every vote cast by a voter. Any vote cast could be verified by a count of paper trail.
The opposition in Botswana has threatened to go to court to compel government to ensure that the envisaged EVMs have got operational specifications such as the availability of a verifiable paper trail in order to close out the possibility of fraud by the ruling party. The opposition will be emboldened in their threats to go to court to learn that, “The introduction of this requirement in the Namibian Electoral Act of 2014 results from a court case in India, in which the Indian Supreme Court ruled that verifiable paper trail should be indispensable for voter confidence in the system.”.
To allay fears of those worried that the machines may be manipulated at the expense of the opposition, Seeletso told stakeholders that the machines are not hackable because they are not computer-based. However, Motlhaleemang Moalosi disagrees. “This is preposterous. What he is saying is not true. Seeletso probably does not know what a computer is. Any electronic device, be it a pen or microwave, even if it is not networked, is computer based. In any case, the fact that the several machines from the polling stations will be connected to the tabulator at the end of polling means that the machines are not standalones at all,” said the computer expert.
His fear is that, the tabulator could be inserted with a malicious code that could then override what the machines that are connected to it had captured at the polling stations. “This would distort the results. So, the BDP may choose not to manipulate the machines at the polling stations but the tabulator itself and win the elections,” said Moalosi who does not understand what the reluctance to introduce a verifiable voter paper audit trail is all about.
“Seeletso should tell the stakeholders what this is. Is it a cost issue or what,”? he wondered. Seeletso has however explained where the problem comes from. He blames ignorance on the part of those against the machine for which he recommends voter education. “People do not easily accept new things. You will remember that when O Mang was first introduced, people objected and made a lot of insinuations about it. There is always fear of the unknown. So, this is not surprising,” he said.
When challenged to explain why the introduction of the EVMs was prioritised ahead of the other reforms which have been proposed over the years, the former IEC boss pleaded with the stakeholders to not kill the messenger. “I have recently learnt a Kalanga proverb which says Ntumwa aana mbonje (a messenger has no wounds). The law has already been made and my job is to explain to you what it says,” said Seeletso.
Stakeholders, especially the opposition are also opposed to the fact that Bharat Electronics has already been chosen as the preferred supplier. They say there should have been transparency right from the onset including surrounding the choice of the supplier.