A surprise decision by Government to withdraw amendments to the Electoral Act, which introduced electronic voting, increased nomination fees and fines, and cancelled supplementary registration has sparked wild speculation with many suggesting that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) fears infiltration by rogue elements in 2019.
Recent reports of hacking and manipulation of voters rolls, which led to the postponement of Bulela Ditswe following a tip off from the Directorate of Intelligence and security Services (DISS) are alleged to have forced the BDP government to finally bow to pressure to abandon plans to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in 2019 general elections. The allegations of infiltration of the BDP system brought into sharp focus the reality of hacking closer home to the party in government inducing a hasty retreat. The withdrawal comes after the opposition and some within the ruling party shouted their voices hoarse without success, trying to persuade Government to reconsider and withdraw the EVM decision. "The tension within BDP has also heightened fears that manipulation (hacking) could happen from inside. EVMs have been criticised the world over and it was not like the BDP is not aware of allegations of the machines being manipulayted to deliver certain results. It was a gamble and a risk even to those in government," said a source.
To many the pronouncement does not come as a surprise because both the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration and Vice President Slumber Tsogwane have in the recent past mooted the idea of abandoning the use of EVM. On Friday social media went viral with an array of postulations on why Government has chickened out after vigorously fighting attempts by the opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) to kill EVMs through litigation. Long before Government hit an about turn on the EVMs many had challenged the Domkrag to pilot the use of electronic voting machines in their internal elections, particularly the recently concluded Bulela Ditswe, which claimed casualties of sitting cabinet ministers who were dethroned by minnows.
Through a public statement on Thursday, the Office of the President informed the public that the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 which introduced amendments to improve efficiency in the electoral process. Although the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 was passed by Parliament in 2016 it has not been brought into operation. 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.
On 1st December 2017, Government published the Electoral (Amendment) Bill of 2017 which proposed to repeal and replace the 2016 Act while at the same time introducing Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was not tabled in Parliament. "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," reads part of the statement.
The opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) could contain the excitement, with the party leadership boldly declaring themselves the winner of a protracted legal battle with Government over plans to introduce the controversial EVM in 2019 general elections. BCP spokesperson, Dithapelo Keorapetse, said they welcome government's intention to abandon EVM use and reinstate supplementary voter registration but as far as they are concerned the matter remains live before Justice Lot Moroka at Francistown High Court. "We can’t rely on a press releases. What if it is withdrawn? So, we will seek a consent order to the effect that for 2019 general elections there will be no EVM and there will be supplementary voter registration. There has to be a legal instrument that binds Government. It is up to the Government to legally bind itself to what Batswana want, which is no use of EVM for 2019 and reinstatement of supplementary election registration. We are waiting for them to approach us before trial dates or we will meet at court on the dates set for trial whereat they’ll properly inform the judge of their decision," said Keorapetse, bouyed by the withdrawal.
Keorapetse said their position that EVMs are incompatible with democratic elections in that the voter cannot be certain that they have voted in the way they intended and that the machines are not tamper proof has not changed. The party has serious security, privacy and reliability as well as efficiency and effectiveness concerns about the EVMs and VVPATs. He said once the EVM and supplementary voter registration issues are put to rest, the party will go ahead with its intention to bring a Private Bill in Parliament to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the electoral process.The BCP legislators will argue for counting of ballots at each polling station in line with SADC Principles and Guidlines Governning Democratic Elecrions and the SADC Parliamentary Forum Model Law on Elections and other international benchmarks. This, Dithapelo says, will ensure a smooth and swift counting and announcement of results and avert the costly, suspicious and unreliable transportation of ballot boxes to counting stations.
The BCP will further argue for the permissible usage of Omang, passport and drivers license for both registration of elections and voting. "We will contend the IEC arrangement to desenfranchise Batswana by turning away people who are duly registered and appear on the voters roll but are without a voting card but in possession of valid identity documents. These changes, if agreed to, can go a long way in improving the exercise of the fundamental right to vote as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our constitution," said Keorapetse.
The BCP contends that many young people are desenfranchised by deliberate hurdles put to bar youth who will be 18 years on Election Day but are not yet 18 at the time of registration, this administrative impediment is unreasonable. "We will therefore raise this matter in Parliament. We may look for such young people to take the IEC to court if BDP dominated Parliament doesn’t listen.We will seek amendments to allow the elderly, pregnant women, lactating mothers , the sick and people living with disabilities and VVIPs to apply for early voting," he added. Other issues include proposals to reduce money levied from parliamentary and council candidates, as running for political office should not be exorbitantly prohibitive, otherwise it’s a violation of the right to be elected into public office and renders politics an elite affair, said the Selibe Phikwe West MP.