Botswana makes U-turn on EVMs

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By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - Botswana will not use the contentious Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the general elections scheduled for October next year, the Office of the President (OP) said in a statement on Thursday. 

The OP revealed that  since the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 is not in operation, the 2019 general elections will be conducted in accordance with the Electoral Act [Cap. 02:09], which does not provide for the use of EVMs, nor prohibits supplementary registration.

The Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 (“the 2016 Act”) introduced amendments in order to improve efficiency in the electoral process. The 2016 Act introduced changes, including electronic voting, abolition of supplementary registration, increased nomination fees and fines, amongst others.

“With regard to electronic voting, the 2016 Act makes provision for Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), which are machines or apparatus whether or not operated electronically, used for the giving and recording of votes,” the OP said.

According to the release, the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 was passed by Parliament in 2016 but has not been brought into operation.

The introduction of the machines has bitterly divided the southern African nation. Opposition parties, which are accusing the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of being behind the introduction of EVMs have warned that there would be violence should the machines be used. BDP has since distanced itself from the vote-rigging claims.

Despite government decision to cancel the use of the electronic voting machine in the 2019 general elections, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) said it would continue with its case against the government.

BCP Publicity Secretary Dithapelo Keorapetse said the party wants legally binding proof.

The BCP last year instituted a legal action against the Independent Electoral Commission after the ballot voting method  was replaced with EVMs.

For his part, the leader of the Alliance for Progressives Ndaba Gaolathe called on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to return the Act that introduced the EVMs back to Parliament.

Gaolathe said failure by President Masisi to return the Act to Parliament “in our view promptly will constitute failure by him to uphold, protect, and defend the people’s all-important social contract, the constitution of the Republic of Botswana”.

 Gaolathe said this process applies only where the President refuses to sign a bill.

He added that “We assume that the law in question, the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 was indeed signed by the (former) President, which is why the press release from the Office of the President refers to it as an Act.”

Gaolathe said since this is an Act of Parliament and cannot be set aside without going first to Parliament to repeal it. “If indeed it is the will of government to bring back the old Act and allow voters to use the ballot paper to cast their vote, that too is a matter that can only be done by Parliament,” he said.

He further stated that “We then at AP do not buy the story that the government has used some powers, which they do not have, to change the import of the law.”

He said, “This government would have actually emerged the much stronger had they stated that due to pressure from all sides, they have decided to go back to Parliament to undo the mess that they created.” That way, he said, they would have emerged as a government that listens to the petitions of its citizens.

Gaolathe further noted that: “We call the press release a mere expression of interest by the  government. The reason being that the law in question was passed by Parliament back in 2016, despite loud protests from ordinary citizens across this country as well as vehement opposition in the house from opposition members of parliament.”

 

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