Apparently there’s going to be an election next year. It is hard to tell though , with the absence of fanfare that usually accompanies a landmark event of this nature. Where are the songs? Where is the rabbit that used signify that elections were coming and usher in another “democratically” elected governmennt?
As voter registration for 2014 general elections continues across the country, the absence of the country’s electoral management body, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is noticeable judging by low voter turnout at polling stations. In consequence, the commission is unlikely to reach its 1,4 million voter registration target. On the ground, the IEC seems to be lacking capacity to mount a robust voter education campaign.
Information reaching The Gazette is that other than low turnout for registration, Batswana lack basic information about elections such as where, when and how to register and vote. Unlike the 2004 and 2009 general elections, when the IEC ran a vigorous publicity campaign; disseminating information, materials and programmes designed to inform voters about the voting process, the 2014 potential voter is likely to be apathetic by the commission’s unpreparedness.
Conceding to their near absence, IEC principal public relations officer, Osupile Maroba said their publicity is much different from the 2004 and the 2009 general elections. He pointed that just like any other department that depends on the public purse, they were affected by the economic crisis. “We do not have enough money and publicity costs rise each year. That has affected our level of publicity,” he explained.
Maroba further explained that, “We have tried other means like using the civil society to publicise, unfortunately it seems like the civil societies are not forth coming. We met with civil leaders like chiefs, church leaders and other organisations. We did that because it was much cheaper as compared to using mediums like newspapers, radio stations and televisions. When you use civil societies you are likely to reach remote areas where the people might not have access to the other mediums. Therefore if the civil societies had done their part the situation could be different now,” he said.
He pointed that their current budget is less than in 2004 and 2009 adding that, “Immediately after the 2009 elections we were faced with an economic crunch, which means our budget was cut significantly to try to meet the requirement of the budget for the whole country”.
Maroba said it was unfortunate that the economic meltdown came at a point when the IEC was faced with doing a lot of things in a short time. He said that the demarcation also took a chunk of publicity money. “The activities that were there were financed by IEC. They impacted on our budget. We might have budgeted for them but the level of publicity cost is escalated. And obviously impact hardly on our activities,” he explained.
Maroba was not in a position to say how much was allocated to publicity but said there is a consolidated fund for the Department in which there is publicity fund. He hoped that if ever there will be a better budget, it will be in the next financial year.
Political parties have also noticed that the IEC is not as vigorous as they expected. MP for Lobatse and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Nehemiah Modubule said when the IEC is not vigorous, it means that those who are to be pushed to register will not do so. “Therefore, political parties are forced to find ways to augment what’s in there. We do not know what might be the problem with the IEC but if their excuse is that their budget was cut, I tend to disagree with them because it is the same department that returns unutilised funds every year. On that aspect I do not want to agree with them,” he said.
Modubule said political parties have to play a role and sensitise people to go for registration because it is important for the people to register and able to vote. He said it is a right that everyone must exercise.
Botswana Congress Party Publicity secretary Taolo Lucas said the IEC is putting in less effort but they are hoping to attain a very high target for registration.
“If they want to achieve their target they must increase their efforts in terms of mobilising voters to register. We are very disappointed as a party in the way the IEC approached this year’s voter registration. They are supposed to be playing a critical part in giving information on voter registration. Publicity is not done in the same level of intensity as compared to previous years. Their level of preparedness in terms of logistics on the first few days left a lot to be desired. There were no signage, no tables and chairs in some polling stations and generally the people who are supposed to register are not aware of the boundaries of the different wards. This on its own negatively impacts on the number of people who will register to vote. They should step up their game before it’s too late,” he said.
Botswana National Front Publicity secretary Moeti Mohwasa said there is apathy and the situation is created by the government. “The politicians have to take blame as well. A lot of defections on the opposition side are a concern. We shouldn’t be blaming the IEC. It is just a coordinating body. What is important now is to go to the people and show them the importance of voting,” he said.
Political analyst at the University of Botswana Professor Zibani Maundeni said the IEC has to reach the masses in terms of informing and educating them or else it will be hard for them to reach their target. “The number of people who will turn up for registration will be low if they are not informed. If less people register to vote it affects legitimacy of the government. From experience if the numbers are low, it hits hard on the political parties. They are the ones who suffer more. It is IEC’s duty to make sure that they advertise and prepare well for the elections,” he said.