The SADC Observer Mission has noted areas of the electoral process that require improvement in Botswana. While declaring the 23rd October 2019 elections Free and Fair, the Mission also observed areas of the electoral process and system that require improving.
Interestingly, they also touched on the role of Traditional Leaders in politics urging the Government to institute national consultations to review the role that traditional leaders may play in politics given their current multiple roles. According to Lt. Gen. (Retired) Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Republic Of Zimbabwe and Head of the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), the Mission observed that traditional leaders, particularly the Chiefs, have multiple roles which include an overlap between executive, judicial, and legislative powers.
“Above this, some traditional leaders are also politicians, and even where they are not politicians they exercise a significant influence in the political/voting choices of their subjects, which may not be desirable in the democratic context,” he said.
The Mission also commented on the counting of votes, imploring the government to consider amending the Electoral Act to make provision for polling station-based counting and the displaying of results at the polling station.
“The Electoral Act provides for polling station-based voter registration and voting, and once polling is closed, for the transportation of ballot boxes to counting centres across the country. The Mission noted that this procedure exposes the ballot boxes to insecurity in the process of movements between polling stations and counting centres.
The Mission noted that the Electoral Act does not make provision for the less risky and more transparent system whereby ballots are counted at each polling station and provisional results are posted outside polling stations for the benefit of all stakeholders,” observed Lt. Gen. (Retired) Dr. Sibusiso Moyo.
On the hot subject of Regulation of Political Parties funding, the Mission called on Government and all stakeholders to consider consultations on the possible regulation of political party financing, particularly in the context of regulating private foreign funding and the safeguards that may be adopted in the national interest.
According to the SADC team, “the Electoral Act limits campaign expenditure to a maximum of P50,000 per candidate. In reality, however, the law and the limits imposed therein are not reflective of the existing dynamics observed in the current financing of political party campaign activities. The injection of foreign money has the potential to cause undue influence and external interference in domestic politics thereby compromising the sovereignty of the country.”
The Mission also urged the IEC to enhance its communication with stakeholders and the public, especially by reviewing and updating the content on its ICT-based platforms. The Mission took note that given modern dependence on information and communication technology, access to critical electoral information from the IEC is generally limited. Furthermore, the Head of SOME said there is the need for the IEC to develop and implement general standards on how the polling staff can assist and prioritise voters who require assistance, such as the disabled, elderly and expecting mothers. They advised that polling stations should be located far from bars and other places where alcohol is consumed. The Mission also questioned the lack of use of indelible ink and translucent ballot boxes.
“The Government is urged to amend the Electoral Act to make provision for the use of indelible ink to minimise the possibility of double or multiple voting and the use of translucent ballot boxes to enhance the transparency of the electoral process.”
The SADC OEM touched on the issue of voter registration and education. According to the Mission, in order to improve voter registration and voter turn-out during elections, “the Government is urged to amend the Electoral Act in order to make provision for the continuous registration of voters up to the cut-off date before an election; and to legally mandate and financially empower the IEC to conduct voter education. In addition, the issue of voter apathy should be duly addressed by all stakeholders.
The Mission noted that the total population of Botswana is 2.2 million, of this 1,592, 350 are eligible voters and the IEC targeted to register 1,273, 880 voters. The actual figure achieved for the 2019 elections was 925, 478 registered voters. The total voter registrations in 2019 were marginally lower at 73% than in 2014 where it was 77% of the total eligible voters. This is reflective of voter apathy.
“The Mission noted that the Electoral Act does not make provision for the continuous registration of voters up to the cut-off date before an election. Further, the IEC has no legal mandate to conduct voter education, and consequently lacks dedicated funding for this purpose; it is the observation of the Mission that more could have been done by the IEC and all relevant stakeholders in conducting voter education.”
On Gender representation, the SADC Observer Mission called on all stakeholders and the Government are urged to take measures to address the gender imbalances in elected political positions, particularly at the level of the National Assembly. “Although this may require comprehensive constitutional amendments, political parties are also urged to take the lead and implement affirmative measures. This will be in conformity with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (2016) and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2015).”
Giving background information on Gender representation Lt. Gen. (Retired) Dr. Sibusiso Moyo said while women account for 55% of registered voters in Botswana, the 2019 elections represent a downward shift in the representation of women in political leadership, particularly at the National Assembly level.
“In the 2014 elections Botswana registered five female Members of Parliament, four of whom were elected at their constituencies, and one was specially elected. This brought the percentage of female parliamentarians after the 2014 elections to 8.7% of the total. Furthermore, in the 2014 elections, out of a total of 192 Parliamentary candidates, 17 were female, representing 8.9%,” he said.
He noted that in 2019, however, only 11 out of 210 Parliamentary candidates were women, representing 5% of the total, which demonstrates a downward shift from the gains of 2014. This requires national reflection to address the gender imbalance in politics, he observed. The SEOM observed that the pre-election and voting phases of the 2019 General Elections were well organised and were conducted in a peaceful and free atmosphere, and the environment enabled the voters to express themselves in a transparent manner.
“The Mission commends the IEC for the professional manner in which they conducted the elections, and the people of Botswana for the political maturity demonstrated during the electoral process. The Mission urges Batswana to maintain this spirit until the conclusion of the process when the results of the elections are announced, and after, and to implement the above recommendations in preparation for the next electoral cycle.”