Ombudsman wants Mentally Disadvantaged to vote

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  • Says Botswana denies lunatics to vote contrary to UN convention
  • Wants Lunatics to vote with assistance of their choice
  • Electoral Act and Mental Disorders Act silent on insane person, unsound mind definitions
  • Calls for immediate constitutional review, expresses hope in Masisi gov’t
  • Says disabled are exploited by politicians and political parties


The Ombudsman, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe has come out strongly against the government for denying persons with mental disabilities to register and exercise their right to vote, contrary to the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights, saying that the prohibition cast doubt on whether our elections are free as required by international and local law.
Makgonatsotlhe made observation in his earnest and thought-provoking address on disability and human rights conference on Friday at University of Botswana conferencing centre. Makgonatsotlhe argued that the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), protects the right to political participation of all and assumes the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) as it does not expressly discriminate against them.
“However, political participation of PWDs still remains a challenge in Africa due to lack of laws guaranteeing the same. Electoral laws in Africa only make provisions regarding those persons with disabilities who may not take part in the electoral process while they tend to be silent on those who are eligible to vote,” Makgonatsotlhe added that “Botswana restricts persons with mental disabilities to register and exercise their right to vote, contrary to the UN Convention.”
He gave an example with section 6 (1)(c) of Botswana’s Electoral Act, which provides that, “No person shall be qualified to be registered a voter who…. Is a person certified to be [insane] or otherwise adjudged or declared to be of unsound mind under any law for the time being in force in Botswana and is disqualified from registering as a voter.”
Despite the prohibition Makgonatsotlhe noted that, “the Electoral Act and Mental Disorders Act do not define what an insane person is or what is meant by the term unsound mind.”
These legal barriers he charged, “deny those with mental disability the ability to exercise their right to vote and that constitutes discrimination in terms of Article 2 of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).”
Discrimination on the basis of disability under Article 2 of the CRPD is defined as “any restriction, exclusion or distinction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. It includes all forms of discrimination, including denial of reasonable accommodation”.
Makgonatsotlhe implored Botswana to take lessons from “countries like Ethiopia, Niger and Ghana that have made reforms to protect the right of people with disabilities (PWDs) in political participation by allowing PWDs to vote independently with the assistance of their choice.”
He further urged the country to derive learning from the reforms adopted by the European Union and other African countries in order to provide PWDs an opportunity, on an equal basis to participate in party politics and the entire electoral process in order for PWDs to realise their rights to political participation in Botswana,
“The Electoral Act of 1968 should also be reviewed to cater for PWDs and create an inclusive political climate with laws that will guarantee the protection and promotion of political participation of PWDs in Botswana; freedom of expression of the will of PWDs as voters and election candidates and the right of PWDs to secret ballot during elections,” the Ombudsman stressed.
The Government of Botswana, Makgonatsotlhe advised, “should also make specific quotas or reserve seats for PWDs at local government level and at the National Assembly through specially elected dispensation as provided for in Section 58 (2) (b) of the Constitution of Botswana.”
Makgonatsotlhe called on political parties to include PWDs in their political activities as well as their participation in decision making structures, “would it be wrong to see capable individuals with disabilities standing for Council or Parliamentary elections as candidates?” he asked.
The Ombudsman used Fridays event to call for a constitutional review saying it is outdated, “it has to be reviewed as soon as yesterday to be aligned with today’s challenges, opportunities and modern developments,” he said and stressed that he is hopeful that the current administration will heed the call.
“There is so much hope with the current government. So much enthusiasm. There is a promising atmosphere as people are now free to express themselves and share their ideas and experiences. Let’s pray to God that these people lead us to the promised land as we all dream of,” he said to a sound and sober murmur of the attendants.
Makgobatsotlhe’s views suggest that Botswana’s elections are not free a view previously expressed by international election watchdogs. ‘Free’ means that all those entitled to vote have the right to be registered and to vote and must be free to make their choice. An election is considered ‘free’ when you can decide whether or not to vote and vote freely for the candidate or party of your choice without fear or intimidation. A ‘free’ election is also one where you are confident that who you vote for remains your secret.
On participations and rejection of mentally unstable…
The right to participate in political and public life is enshrined in Article 29 of the Convention. It emphasises the need to accord equal opportunity for PWDs to participate in the electoral process, whether by standing for elected office, joining a political party, and perform public functions at all levels of government. The article advocates for an enabling environment in terms of accessible voter information, better support and reasonable accommodation so that PWDs can enjoy their political rights.
Generally, persons with disabilities are not given a platform to participate in the political atmosphere except where they are expected to cast votes. The Constitution of Botswana and other pieces of legislation, such as the Electoral Act of 1968 and its amendments do not have specific provisions aimed at protecting, and promoting the rights of PWDs in general, and their right to political participation in particular. Experiences faced by Persons with Disabilities in the political atmosphere include among others; rejection, discrimination, lack of recognition and protection, exploitation by politicians and political parties, as well as voting procedures and facilities that are not favourable to PWDs.
Although PWDs face many challenges in regard to political participation and inclusion, some countries around the world have enacted legislations that empower PWDs concerning their participation in the political landscape. The European Union for instance has adopted several laws to promote political participation of PWDs. These instruments comprise, among others, the EU Convention on Human Rights; the Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers on the Participation of PWDs in Political and Public Life (2011); Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU; and EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (FRA 2014). This laudable move by the EU was solely to acknowledge that all citizens, including persons with disabilities, have equal rights to participate in the choice of their governments.