Another Goodhope/Mabule by-election looms

SHARE   |   Monday, 25 July 2016   |   By Phillimon Mmeso

Opposition Members of Parliament are reading malice on the hurried request by the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale to have the Electoral Amendment Bill granted an urgency certificate. At the centre of their misgivings on the urgency of the bill, opposition MPs argue that enough consultation has not been done on the bill. “This is a very important bill but there has not been enough consultation with the public about it. I am afraid that passing it now will cause confusion to the electorates as they are not aware of it,” said MP for Maun West Tawana Moremi. He was supported by the MP for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse who wondered why the bill has to be treated with urgency when the 2019 General Elections are still far.

“What the minister is proposing is a fundamental change in the electoral process. There is a need for extensive and meaningful consultation in line with the principle of participatory democracy,” said Keorapetse, adding that bringing the bill to introduce electronic voting machines through a certificate of urgency is irrational, unreasonable and akin to ambush of Parliament and the nation it represents. Molale caught Parliament by surprise when he moved that the Electoral Amendment Bill be granted an urgency certificate. Molale requested Parliament to treat it as urgent as they were a lot of things that needed to be done when the bill is made a law. One of the issues that he said need to be covered includes the procurement of the e-voting machines and capacitating the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) staff on how to operate the machines. Parliament granted the bill an urgency certificate after intense resistance from the opposition which means it will not go through the normal process of waiting for 30 days but will be debated next week.

In an interview the Umbrella for Democracy Change (UDC) Chief Whip Wynter Mmolotsi said they are surprised that Molale want the bill to be treated with urgency when they are other pressing issues that need to be addressed. “Over the President Holidays he was busy campaigning in Goodhope/Mabule constituency where we all know that the area MP is not feeling well and then he wants Parliament to fast-track the amendment of the electoral Act,” said Mmolotsi, adding that Molale might know something they don’t know. Recently Molale, who was Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary candidate in the Goodhope/Mabule in last year’s by-election, has been addressing political rallies in the area – a move viewed by some political pundits as a sign that a possible by-election is looming in the constituency.

System to be tested at Goodhope/Mabule
Though UDC has vehemently denied that the ailing MP for Goodhope/Mabule Kgosi Lotlaamoreng will not resign, sources close to the Barolong Paramount chief have revealed that he will quit politics upon coming back from his medical treatment in South Africa. Lotlaamoreng, who defeated Molale in one of the highly contested by-elections in August last year, is said to be contemplating quitting politics due to his failing health. Prior to his recent hospitalisation, Lotlaamoreng was linked to the ruling party something that he flatly denied while confirming that some in the BDP top leadership have been trying to recruit him. Information gathered by this publication has revealed that government want the e-voting system to be piloted at the Goodhope/Mabule by-elections which is expected before end of this year.

Though Molale informed Parliament that they want to start the procurement of the machines well on time, sources at both IEC and Office of the President have revealed that some of the machines are already there. The IEC will next week start consultations on the new voting system by addressing MPs, councillors and other stakeholders. The E-Voting system, which has been tried in more than 25 countries and proven to be problematic in most of them, often has technical challenges. In Nigeria during the presidential elections the machine failed to recognise the identity of the then President Goodluck Jonathan. In Kenya, there were malfunctions in both the biometric kits and, more extensively, in the electronic tallying system forcing a manual tallying of votes; opposition leaders in both countries cried foul and challenged the results in court.

Hacking problem
Most of the Electronic Voting Machines are manufactured by Bharan Electronic and Co in India and some political commentators in India have attributed the unreliability of the voting machines to the fact that each step in the life cycle of a voting machine involves different people gaining access to the machines, often installing new software. The Electronic Voting System (EVS) has been banned in most of the European countries, declaring them unreliable and easy to be tampered with. The Dutch public-interest group ‘Wij Vertrouwen Stemcomputers Niet’ (We Do Not Trust Voting Machines) produced a video showing how quickly someone could hack the Nedap machines, in as little as five minutes without voters or election officials being aware.