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Botswana opposition slams electoral body for benchmarking in Zimbabwe

by Staff reporter
15 Feb 2024 at 10:09hrs | Views
Botswana's coalition of opposition parties has slammed the country's electoral body for traveling to Zimbabwe to benchmark its election procedures — the process by which the performance of a system is assessed for success and emulation.

Botswana will hold its general election later this year, and officials with the country's Independent Electoral Commission have been criticized for choosing the example of Zimbabwe, a country that held disputed polls in August 2023.

The two-day benchmarking trip ended Wednesday, and Botswana's Independent Electoral Commission's focus was on "management of electoral activities and how to conduct elections."

Utloile Silaigwana, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chief elections officer, told journalists in Harare that the Botswana delegation will also learn about election publicity activities using radio and social media.

While Zimbabwe's 2023 election was disputed, Silaigwana said Botswana's visit is an endorsement of ZEC's conduct of the elections.

But the Botswana National Front opposition is displeased with the IEC's trip to Harare, arguing Zimbabwe is not an ideal model for the conduct of free and fair elections.

Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, spokesperson for the opposition Botswana National Front, expressed disappointment at the commission's trip.

"One would have expected the IEC to benchmark in more developed democracies and systems with effective electoral institutions as an indication that they really want to achieve excellence in their mandate," Motshegwa said. "The mission of Botswana's IEC benchmarking in Zimbabwe is simple: Just to learn how to rig an election."

Lawrence Ookeditse of the Botswana Patriotic Front shared similar sentiments.

"We know that Zimbabwe for the past two decades has not been in a position where they have run credible elections," Ookeditse said. "The election has been stolen time after time. We see a situation where in the middle of an electoral process, the IEC in Botswana says they are going to Zimbabwe to benchmark. If you want to benchmark to run elections, you are not going to go to Zimbabwe."

The IEC, in a statement released Wednesday, said the visit to Zimbabwe was specifically to look at ZEC's accreditation machine for election observers.

International observers criticized a presidential election in Zimbabwe last August, saying it fell short of international standards and was conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation and fear. The winner, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, insisted that the election was conducted "transparently, fairly in broad daylight."

But Botswana Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, addressing Parliament on Tuesday, said there is no need to disparage Zimbabwe.

"It [Zimbabwe] is a sovereign state, and these people are our neighbors. Yes, some [election] observers might have said what they said, but this has been said about many [other] countries," Tsogwane said. "But we can't come here and castigate Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a sovereign state, [which] is doing as well as any other country. If you have nothing to say good about Zimbabwe, just keep quiet."

Grant Masterson, director at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said despite criticism, there are positives in Zimbabwe's electoral system.

"The decision has both positive and negative implications," Masterson said. "From a technical perspective, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has performed very well in key areas [of] election management, most notably in civic voter campaigns, as well as stakeholder engagement. They really have a lot of good practices to teach other electoral commissions. On the other side of the coin, there is the consideration that the elections delivered in Zimbabwe have had huge question marks about their integrity."

Zimbabwe said other electoral organizations from the region, including from Lesotho and Ethiopia, have visited to benchmark on conducting elections.

Source - VOA