Friday, June 15, 2018

Botswana, a House Divided …as EVMs Stir Controversy Ahead of Polls
Southern Times
June 11, 2018
By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – Vote-rigging allegations have been levelled against Botswana’s ruling party Botswana Democratic Party after the country’s electoral commission introduced Electronic Voting Machines.

As a result, the country is seized with fears that the upcoming general elections, scheduled for October 2019, are likely to be marred in controversy and violence following the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s decision to abolish paper ballots, replacing them with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

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.

IEC has also expressed concern that court cases which have been launched by the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Manual Workers Union are affecting their preparations for the general elections.

It emerged this week that IEC is having difficulties convincing the Election Commission of India to come in as a key witness and depose an affidavit on the credibility of EVMs.

IEC wants its Indian counterpart to be a key witness in the two cases BCP and Manual Workers Union launched.

According to media reports from India, a delegation from Botswana’s IEC visited the Nirvachan Sadan, headquarters of Election Commission of India recently to convince their Indian counterparts to depose before the High Court on the merits of using the EVM.

India reported that the Election Commission of India finds itself in a difficult position to accede to the Botswana request because of the debate in India over the credibility of the EVMs.

At the time when the IEC delegation was in India, the deputy secretary for the commission, Doreen Serumola reportedly told councillors in Selebi Phikwe in northern Botswana that the court cases lodged by BCP and the Manual Workers Union against the IEC were affecting the commission’s preparations for next year’s general elections.

Serumola was quoted as saying that the union and the union’s case has the possibility of delaying the disposal of the matter further. According to the WeekendPost newspaper reportedly made this revelation when presenting on IEC’s state of preparedness for the 2019 General Election at a full council meeting in Selebi Phikwe.

BCP has taken the IEC to court demanding that all sections of the Electoral (Amendment) Act No. 7 of 2016 which provide for the replacement of voting by ballot paper by EVMs be declared unconstitutional and in violation of Section 32 (3) (c) of the Constitution of Botswana.

 The party further argues that Section 6 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act No.7 of 2016, which replaced Section 8 of the Electoral Act thereby abolishing continuous and supplementary registration of voters is unconstitutional and violates Section 67 of the Constitution of Botswana.

Justice Lot Moroka has set the case for August 1, 2018, for status hearing.

On the other hand, the Manual Workers Union says in its present form, the electronic voting machines do not guarantee the constitutional right to a free, fair and transparent election

“The electronic voting machines in their current form stores votes in an electronic memory only and the tallying of votes is not independently verifiable (in the absence of WPAT and, therefore, infringes the fundamental rights of the electorate in that there is no possibility of a public count, no way of the general public having access to the verification process with the said process being left in the hands of technicians with ‘expert’ knowledge,” the union says in court papers.

Botswana National Front has publicly called for a boycott of the 2019 elections if EVMs are used while BCP spokesperson Dithapelo Keorapetse has vowed that he was ready to “pay” with his life should the machines be used.

In his tour across the country, EVM Coordinator and former IEC Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso, attempted to convince the nation that the EVMs that the government plans to procure cannot be hacked, but it appears his efforts have achieved little success.

In an interview with Botswana Guardian, the late former president Sir Ketumile Masire also rejected the introduction of EVMS.

He told the paper that the issue was no longer about whether or not there were plans to steal the 2019 elections but whether an election could be deemed credible if there was a huge dark cloud hanging over it.

Masire was quoted as saying: “If at any stage, the electoral process seems flawed in the eyes of citizens, the entire exercise would not only lose credibility, but the legitimacy of a government that emerges out of that process would be eroded as well.”

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