Opposition party members and observers have expressed anger at the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) resolutions to discontinue both the supplementary voter registration and transfers of voters.
Made last year, the resolutions followed complaints by the ruling party that the opposition rigged the 2014 general election through voter trafficking. The accusations of election rigging by the BDP against the opposition has caused anger among observers some of whom believe that, such unusual complaints from the ruling party are ominous for the country’s democracy and stability.
Although no concrete evidence has ever been produced to support the allegations, the opposition has accused the ruling party of election rigging since the first election in 1965. Supplementary registration, which takes place after the general voter registration, is meant to allow those who became of age immediately after the general voter registration to register.
It gives the elections management body, with the benefit of the figures from the general voter registration, an opportunity to target the disinclined regions for further mobilisation. It also targets those who, for diverse reasons including voter apathy, were not able to register during the general registration period. For example, in November 2003 only 425 825 people registered during the general registration for the 2004 general elections.
The IEC had targeted 675 000 potential voters. According to the final report of the elections management body’s preparedness to conduct legitimate and credible election in October 2004, “during the first supplementary registration which took place between 13th and 21 March, and the second one of 22 March until 4 July 2004, the IEC managed to register another 75 476 potential voters and 46, 406 respectively.”
The report was sponsored by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and prepared by Carl Dundas, Dr Zibani Maundeni and Tachilisa Balule in December 2004. Similarly, in the run-up to the 2009 general election, only 343 660 registered during the general voter registration.
The three supplementary registrations the IEC rolled out to augment the figures, made it possible for 382 157 more voters to register. By the same token, falling far too short of its target at the end of the general voter registration, the IEC ran supplementary voter registration exercises which raised more potential voters.
At the end, the consultants noted that “...the flexibility in the electoral laws enabled the IEC to structure the registration process in such a way that as many people as possible could be registered through different modes of registration.”
Part of the “everything possible” done by the IEC is the use of both supplementary voter registration and voter transfers. A total of 825 582 potential voters registered for the 2014 general election. Of this, 494 592 used the general registration period to register. When the IEC was not happy with the numbers, it rolled two supplementary registrations in which 168 844 and 162 146 voters registered respectively.
The transfer window is intended to allow those who, after registering for the elections at a particular station, have changed their minds regarding where they want to cast their vote. Indications are that, by comparison, transfers are higher where high-stake wards and constituencies are concerned. A cursory observation reveals that all political parties are guilty as charged!
The possibility that the opposition used both the supplementary voter registration and the transfer windows to engage in illegal registrations may not be discounted especially looking at the high-stake election that the 2014 polls were. In fact, primary election losers in both the opposition parties and the ruling BDP have accused the winners of having rigged the elections by way of trafficking voters.
When contacted for comment on his party resolution under discussion, the secretary general of the BDP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the BDP was certain of winning the 2019 polls, indicated that during and after the last elections, with the help of its foot soldiers, the ruling party noticed loopholes in the electoral law that made certain malpractices possible.
“Remember we also get feedback from our people on the ground who were candidates and also saw the strange practices in the 2014 election. The level of transfers was unprecedented. Why the systematic and coordinated transfers? Clearly, there was a kind of intent. How many democracies permit transfers according to your research? How many allow for supplementary registration? What are their reasons?” wrote Ntuane in response to an email enquiry.
It remains unclear why the ruling party chose the rather dramatic way of dealing with the problem of vote-rigging instead of doing away with the flexibility in the electoral system, which, if the voter registration data for the 2004, 2009 and 2014 are any guide, has aided the fight against voter apathy.
The deputy secretary general of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Richard Gudu, believes the BDP is clutching at straws. “They are being hypocritical. We know they are the ones who traffic voters because even their own members say publicly that they lost the primary elections because fellow party members, sometimes with the support of some in the leadership, trafficked voters to win the primary elections. If they discontinue these two processes, they should come up with something that will ensure that, for example, a potential voter who was outside the country and could not register when the general voter registration was concluded is not disenfranchised,” said Gudu.
He added that, as the ruling party, the BDP government, with the mandate to promote and protect democracy, must not be seen to promote self-serving legislations. The publicity secretary of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Dithapelo Keorapetse hit back by accusing the BDP of trafficking voters from their strongholds to the marginal constituencies.
“For example, they brought people from Mmadinare to vote in Selibe Phikwe. The opposition has got neither the resources nor the inclination to cheat in the elections. Some BDP members even confess to us that they get paid to do that. If they even believe what they are saying, why make noise about it without stopping it? In my view, voter trafficking can still take place even if you do away with supplementary registration and transfers because people can still use the general voter registration to register where they are not supposed to register,” he said adding that, many transfers are genuine.
Keorapetse, who labelled trafficking a crime, challenged the ruling party to enforce the current law. “Our position as BCP is that, instead of infringing on the right of the people to vote, the BDP government should introduce Proportional Representation (PR) where there will be no need for voters to transfer their votes because under the PR system, one can vote anywhere because the country is like a single constituency,” explained the BCP spokesperson.
Professor Zibani Maundeni of the University of Botswana (UB) warns that, by discontinuing the long tested voter registration modes, the BDP risks making a very big mistake. “A lot of people will be disadvantaged should the resolution turn into law. If voter transfers are disallowed, what will happen, for instance about workers who will have been transferred elsewhere before the elections by the same government?” he asked rhetorically.
The academic is worried that the BDP is accusing the opposition of vote-rigging. “Such complaints coming from a ruling party are not good for our democracy and the stability of the country. Research has shown that, when a ruling party says that, it means to incite its members so that they refuse to accept the results of an election if it does not favour them,” indicated the Professor.