Bots gears up for polls amid uncertainty

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By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone- Botswana is preparing for 2019 general elections amid concerns that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is caught between a rock and hard place, as it is uncertain of which voting method to use.

The IEC is uncertain as to whether it should use the ballot paper or the contentious Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), which are to be introduced because of the Electoral Amendment Act of 2016. Registration period for 2019 elections is set for 3 September-November 11, 2018.

According to statistics from the national and civil registration office, more than 1.5 million Botswana citizens are eligible to register to vote in 2019.

 IEC Chief Elections Officer, Dintle Rapoo, recently informed councillors at the Central District Council that the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration has not yet served a commencement date for the Electoral Amendment Act of 2016 and, therefore, all the amendments could not be implemented until then.

 “This is why we are not using electronic voting machines in the by-elections post the 2016 amendment act. Had the commencement date been set already, we would then be obliged to use the EVMs,” Rapoo was quoted as saying.

 IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba shared the same sentiment, saying they have decided to use the old Act for the National Voter’s Registration due to the delay in the commencement of the Electoral Amendment Act of 2016 (the same Act that introduces EVMs).

The contentious amended Act of 2016 also abolished supplementary registration. Maroba was not able to say whether they would have supplementary registration since they were using the old Act for voter’s registration.

There is a possibility that should the new Act commence after the closure of voter registration, we are not likely to have supplementary registration,” he said.

However, opposition parties are arguing that there should be consistency in the way the process of this year’s general elections is conducted.

Botswana National Front (BNF) spokesperson Justin Hunyepa said if the IEC intends to use the old Act for voter’s registration, which provides for supplementary registration, the IEC should have supplementary registration and use the ballot paper instead of EVMs.

“As stakeholders, we are watching this unfolding development with keen interest. As things stand, the IEC will be forced to use the old Act for voter’s registration and we expect them to also have supplementary registration. The ballot paper should also be used. Should they deviate from the old Act, we will take them to court,” he said.

Hunyepa further explained that “there should be consistency. You cannot use the Old Act for Voter’s registration and then later use the new Act for cancellation of supplementary registration or use EVMs.”

The introduction of the EVMs is also being challenged before the court and it seems the case is still far from being heard and it will drag a little longer before the courts.

Opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP), through its lawyers, argues that the Electoral Act, as amended to introduce EVMs for voting, is unconstitutional. It is urging the court to declare that EVMs violate the fundamental democratic principles of transparency and openness which are prerequisites for elections. The BCP further argues that EVMs can be tampered with and, therefore, unsafe to be used for choosing a government.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration has on more than two occasions hinted at the possibility of reversing the introduction of EVMs, but has yet to make an official pronouncement on its position.

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