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Botswana ruling party member claims 'vote rigging' in October election

Thursday December 12 2019

Mokgweetsi Masisi supporters

A Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) supporter holds up a poster during an election campaign rally in Mokgweetsi Masisi's, President of Botswana and leader of the BDP, home village in Moshupa, on October 22, 2019. PHOTO | MONIRUL BHUIYAN | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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Gaborone,

A Botswana ruling party member has claimed to have taken part in vote rigging during the October election that allowed President Mokgweetsi Masisi to win a five-year term.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 38 out of 57 seats in the October 23 parliamentary elections, leaving runner-up Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) with just 15 seats and prompting opposition outcry.

The UDC filed a legal challenge against the outcome of the polls last month, citing "irregularities in some of the constituencies".

"TRUSTED ACTIVISTS"

In an affidavit filed in court and seen by AFP on Wednesday, BDP member Emmanuel Mohalodi admitted that he and "other BDP trusted activists" allegedly carried out a "vote rigging operation" before and during the polls.

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"I confirm that the results ascribed to the BDP from the just ended general elections... do not reflect the will or choice of the voter," Mohalodi said.

He stated under oath that "BDP teams" ferried thousands of people between September 2018 and April 2019 to register in the capital Gaborone -- an opposition stronghold.

Hundreds were also dispatched to other areas.

MASISI IMPLICATED

The BDP won a majority in all of Gaborone's five constituencies, which were previously held by the opposition.

"Voters would first vote at their place of origin and be transport(ed) to the second constituency to vote (twice)," said Mohalodi.

He added that Masisi -- who secured his first elected five-year term as president after the BDP was declared winner -- was "coordinating" the operation.

Masisi has dismissed UDC claims of irregularities.

"These elections were... conducted on the basis of the Electoral Act," Masisi said during a press conference on Tuesday.

"Where do they get that incredible ridiculousness of questioning the legitimacy of our electoral law?" he asked, outraged.

NO COMMENT

BDP spokesman Banks Kentse refused to comment on the allegations of vote rigging.

"This is a matter before the court," Kentse told AFP on Wednesday. "We want to allow the court to rule on the matter."

"As the BDP we believe we won a mandate in a free and fair election," he added.

Mohalodi's affidavit was lodged as part of the UDC's petition on November 26, in which they are challenging the results of 16 constituencies won by the BDP.

BDP lawyers are calling for the case to be dismissed on the basis of technicalities.

"There is enough evidence to prove that these elections were rigged," said UDC spokesman Moeti Mohwasa in a statement on Tuesday.

"The state of affairs" is "bad for our country," he added.

DEMOCRACY

Botswana, famed for its diamonds and wildlife, is hailed across Africa as a beacon of democracy and continuity.

The BDP has ruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1966.

But the party suffered a seismic jolt in May when former president Ian Khama renounced his hand-picked successor Masisi and backed a new party.

The October polls were predicted to offset the divided BDP's hold on power and reduce its majority in parliament.

Instead it secured a sweeping victory.

SWORN AFFIDAVIT

Botswana's election "was fraudulently rigged to favour the BDP", said a South Africa-based anti-corruption organisation, Forensics for Justice, in a report last week.

The group cited Mohalodi's affidavit and sworn statements by two other BDP members, Dikanela Selaledi and Dennis Baikalafi.

Selaledi admitted he was lent a laptop by the electoral commission (IEC) on which he loaded around 10,000 duplicate voters, and created the same number of voter cards, said Forensics for Justice.

Baikalafi recalled a meeting with Masisi during which the president allegedly said the elections should be won "by all means".

Mohalodi alleges a 15 million Pula slush fund (around $1.4 million) was used to finance the vote-rigging exercise. He claims the fund was coordinated by Botswana's intelligence services.

IEC CONTACT

The UDC claims the government failed to address a number of "fundamental issues" raised ahead of the vote, including the "need for independence" of the electoral commission.

Mohalodi said the BDP worked closely with several members of the IEC to rig the ballot.

He named one IEC official, Dintle Rapoo, as a "contact person".

BDP candidates and campaign managers allegedly gave the official memory cards with voter names to be inserted in the IEC database.

The aim was to stuff more voters onto the electoral roll.

Rapoo declined to comment on the accusations. "It is an issue before court," he told AFP.

A panel of High Court judges hearing the UDC's petitions are set to rule within 90 days of their submission.