My point of departure for this conversation is that the current tour by the EVM Coordinator should have been undertaken when the thought of reforming the Electoral Act was conceived. Put differently with a high degree of conviction derived from precedence, this tour should have been in the form of a referendum. Anything to the contrary as is the case, defies all humanly possible logic. There is very little benefit from this tour, if any, to the electorate and the electoral process who are for all intents and purposes, the ultimate beneficiaries. In this conversation, I discuss the bizarre but ‘calculated’ logic behind the tour and the likely negative consequences thereof. A number of other issues other than a simple violence to logic; inevitably come into play. They cannot be ignored. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) through the EVM Coordinator is saying that this tour is meant to inform the electorate about the amended Electoral Act whose ‘highlight’ is the introduction of electronic voting machines to be used in the 2019 general election; teaching the electorate about the use of EVMs without a prototype of same; the abolition of supplementary registration and so on. And then what? That is, what will this tour have achieved in the public interest when it concludes? How and what is the standard to measure whether the electorate approves of or rejects this self-preservation tour? What happens if the Nays have it? Without any standard, scientific or otherwise to gauge responses from the tour, wont it be subject to the Coordinator’s own subjectivity as an interested party to conclude that the majority agree with him?
The amendment to the Electoral Act is an important constitutional undertaking where the electorate under a normal constitutional democracy gets a rare chance to directly participate in a process where it determines how it wants the next government to be elected. It is unfortunate and misplaced that technicalities, more than a voice of reason, are brought in to dismiss a call on a referendum. This process was undertaken in 1987 and 1997 respectively where a precedence was set. In this respect, it is the legitimate expectation of the electorate that electoral reforms are to a large extent devoid of controversy as is currently the case but that such reforms command high levels of legitimacy to promote electorate buy-in and confidence in the process. There is no convincing or persuasive argument proffered why this time around, that precedence is not followed. A point must immediately be made again with the highest degree of conviction that ‘consulting’ the electorate about a concluded process is nothing more than taking such electorate for granted and with contempt. The long and short of this episode is that the amended electoral law will be used in 2019; Bharat Electronics of India will supply the gadgets and these will determine who forms the next government post 2019 barring any legal recourse from some quarter. It appears this legal recourse is looming in the horizon. I will refer to it later. But why are we here you may ask?
As long as political decisions have a margin of suspicion from whatever section of the community, perceptions are triggered as is the case with the current tour and the amended Electoral Act. These perceptions are around the ruling party’s dwindling support not only from its members but from those who are non-aligned but sympathetic to it. In fact, it is a fact and not perception that the ruling party’s popular vote has on one hand significantly and substantially dropped to an unprecedented low figure of 47% as at 2014 while on the other, the combined opposition popular vote stood at about 53% during the same period. Buoyed by this impressive figure, the opposition upped the ante by officially announcing and endorsing the coalition for the 2019. These developments naturally pose a threat to the ruling party’s uninterrupted half century hold onto political power. Let’s face it – what would you do if cornered by imminent and potential danger? Use all means at your disposal – conventional or unorthodox which at the end of the day, may defy logic but saves you. The ruling party is in this corner. Given that this tour is in my view for political expediency (as discussed above) than anything else, the Manual Workers Union is reported by the Sunday Standard newspaper edition dated March 19-25, 2017 to be intending ‘to sue government over the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines’. The newspaper further reports that ‘the union lawyers state that the Act is unconstitutional in terms of Section 32 (c) of the Constitution; elections can only be by way of ballot’.
Assuming for purposes of this conversation that this case is successful and the prayers sought by the applicant (union) are sustained, we could find ourselves in the same position we were in the recent case by the same union on the judiciary (the Tafa J case) – that the amended Electoral Act 2016 is unconstitutional and therefore unlawful; that the EVMs are prohibited from use in 2019. Alternatively, the Act could still be declared constitutional but provisions within it like the EVM issue declared unconstitutional. Whichever way one looks at it, the Electoral Act 2016 could still be reverted back to parliament to repair its unconstitutionality injury. I will argue that if this were to be the case, it would once again leave an egg on the faces of those charged with the responsibility of making logical decisions in the public interest. Truth be told, it no longer matters whether those people make logical decisions or not because consequent management has never been in their vocabulary. I have had the opportunity to listen to the EVM Coordinator addressing meetings. With a high level of subjectivity as alluded to somewhere in this conversation, the point that some members of the public and opposition parties are not comfortable with the unexplained non-provision of verifiable paper trail in EVMs for example, is not prominent. It is almost dismissed as a non-issue. What he always says is that changes will never be acceptable to everybody. While this is true, it is incumbent upon him to fully explain what the major concerns are and what is in place to deal with them.
An opinion piece in the Zimbabwe Independent in 2010 titled ‘Elections in Africa: A terrifying prospect’ says ‘There is no political event more dangerous than a general election. Even in what are called “mature democracies”, elections bring out hidden weaknesses in a nation’s structure that can be stretched to breaking point, and if wise counsel does not prevail, no one can predict what might happen”. Our current situation fits well into the quote. Lack of proper logic is stretching Botswana to a breaking point because wise counsel is mute. If nobody takes charge to allow sanity to prevail, a terrifying election prospect looms large in the horizon. This is all courtesy of fear of the unknown. Reality has set in that change of guard in Botswana politics could after all be possible more than ever before. This is why we are led into this highly confused road to 2019 where the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. I am not wishing Botswana a terrifying election prospect because I will benefit absolutely nothing therefrom but simply that the way those who should ensure this doesn’t happen have elected to have the country’s priorities upside down. If we are not alive to these realities to offer alternatives, we are in serious denial. The current tour by the EVM Coordinator defies logic and may come back to haunt us big time. Is the same tour going to be undertaken once EVMs arrive? Your guess is good as mine. ‘Participation in electoral processes involves much more than just voting’. I am refusing to accept that the current Electoral Act will deliver a fair election when participatory democracy in the form of a referendum is denied or ignored. I am also refusing to accept that the current tour is a precursor to deliver such an election. Judge for Yourself!