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Gov’t finally dumps bothersome EVMs

Publishing Date : 03 September, 2018


President Mokgweetsi Masisi administration has announced this week the reversal of the decision to introduce the controversial Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) following court battles and resistance from the populace.  

Ever since Masisi ascended to the presidency, government had hinted at the possibility of doing away with EVM, a move which was finally enacted this week through a communique from Office of the President. Since 2016 the issue surrounding the use and procurement of the controversial EVMs has been very topical. The debacle and the suspicions involving the use of EVMs by the ruling government was perceived as a move to rig the 2019 general elections.

It was believed that, following the 2014 general election, in which ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) fortunes plummeted, the ruling party had fears that it would lose the 2019 general elections. In a statement that announced the decision government contended that the Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 introduced amendments in order to improve efficiency in the electoral process. The 2016 Act introduced changes including electronic voting, abolition of supplementary registration, increased nomination fees and fines, amongst others.  

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. The Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 was passed by Parliament in 2016 but has not been brought into operation.  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.

Government has concluded that 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.

The introduction of Act was vehemently opposed by Botswana Congress Party (BCP), which had taken the matter to court arguing through its lawyers argued that the Electoral Act as amended to introduce EVMs for voting is unconstitutional. BCP also argued that the court should declare that EVMs violate the fundamental democratic principles of transparency and openness which are a pre- requisite for elections.  

The BCP further argued that EVMs can be tampered with and therefore unsafe to be used for choosing a government. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has on the 23rd March 2017 delivered a notice to abide by the decision of the Court indicating that the IEC shall not oppose the court case and will do as directed by the Court.  

The cost of all the 2000 machines that were expected to be used nationwide was P100 million. Given the dynamics Botswana would need a total of 2000 machines to cover all constituencies as each machine can accept about 500 votes.
The former Secretary of the IEC Gabriel Seeletso who now serve as a consultant led the IEC’s EVM Unit on a nationwide tour, addressing 490 ward meetings and 57 constituency meetings during which he educated the public and stakeholders about the EVM. The campaign cost the IEC P150 million.

The BCP also issued a statement which welcomed the move by government to abandon the EVMs. “We are not surprised by the pronouncement because both the Minister in the Presidency and the Vice President have in the recent past mooted the idea of abandoning the use of EVM”. BCP Spokesperson Dithapelo Keorapetse said however, for BCP, the matter remains live before Justice Lot Moroka at Francistown High Court.

“We can’t rely on a press release what if it’s withdrawn. We will seek a consent order to the effect that for 2019, general elections they’ll be no EVM and they’ll be supplementary voter registration. There has to be a legal instrument that binds the government. It is up to the government to legally bind itself to what Batswana want, which is no use of EVMs 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”.



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