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Cablegate: Improving Botswana's Elections

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY: Although Botswana's Independent Electoral
Commission (IEC) administered the October 2004 parliamentary
election admirably, constitutional and statutory amendments
could enhance the IEC's ability to conduct elections in a
free and fair manner. At a June 9-10 conference co-
sponsored by USAID and the IEC, stakeholders in the election
process debated how to better insulate the IEC from
political pressure, regulate campaign financing and prevent
incumbents from abusing state resources. Building on a
January DVC on campaign finance hosted by Embassy Gaborone
and a February 2005 workshop for IEC staff to evaluate their
recent performance, also funded by the Embassy, this
conference continued and extended Mission's advocacy to
strengthen Botswana's democratic institutions. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Using money earmarked by USAID's Regional Center for
Southern Africa (RCSA) for programs in non-presence
countries, Embassy Gaborone, RCSA, and the IEC jointly
planned a June 9-10 conference to deliberate constitutional
and statutory changes that would strengthen the IEC and
improve the conduct of elections in Botswana. The
conference drew participants from all the major political
parties, the media, the University of Botswana as well as
various Government agencies. In an unusual step, after
officially opening the event, Minister of Presidential
Affairs and Public Administration Phandu Skelemani remained
to observe the conference's provocative first session on
incumbency and its abuse. The presence of the two senior-
most officials on the political staff of the Office of the
President reflected the importance the GOB accorded this

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3. (U) Proposals for enhancing the independence of the IEC
won broad support among conference participants. Formerly
the Office of Elections within the Office of the President,
the IEC is now a separate body. The Secretary of the IEC
however, is, still appointed by the President and the IEC's
budget flows through that of the Office of the President.
Although members of the Commission are not appointed by the
President, they are chosen by the members of the Judicial
Service Commission, all but one of whom are Presidential
appointees. The conference endorsed without objection
recommendations that the National Assembly amend the
Constitution to establish procedures for appointing members
of the Commission and its Secretary, the funding the IEC,
and regulating its operations, that would protect it from
manipulation by the President.


4. (U) A number of the recommendations adopted by the
conference urged the National Assembly to clarify and
broaden the mandate of the IEC. During the October 2004
election, the opposition parties argued that the current
arrangement, whereby the President chooses the polling date,
allows the ruling party the unfair advantage of exclusive
advance knowledge on which to base its campaign plans.
Participants suggested a number of remedies, most of which
involved granting the IEC a role in setting the voting day.

5. (U) Another proposal advocated replacing the current
Delimitation Commission, an ad hoc body again chosen by
Presidential appointees to adjust the boundaries of
constituencies, and instead conferring its powers upon the
IEC. This would reduce the perceived scope for
gerrymandering. Assigning this role to a permanent
institution also would enable it to correct possible
mistakes. The most recent Delimitation Commission was
unable to correct errors it had made because the Commission
is dissolved upon submission of its report to the President.


6. (U) Most controversial were calls for campaign finance
reform. Members of the opposition parties railed against
the common practice of ministers addressing party political
rallies while traveling within the country on government
business. They also clamored for state funding for
political parties and avidly queried a representative of
South Africa's electoral management body on provisions for
party funding in South Africa.

7. (SBU) References to campaign finance disclosure failed
to resonate with members of either the ruling or opposition
parties. It is commonly known that the ruling Botswana
Democratic Party (BDP) draws significant backing from the
mining company De Beers. BDP Executive Secretary Batlang
Serema made it clear that both the Party and its supporters
are hesitant to publicly disclose the magnitude and nature
of that support. UB academic Gladys Mokhawa echoed
opposition politicians' comments to PolOff observing that
contributors to the opposition parties are equally reluctant
to be known. Since most companies count Government agencies
among their largest customers, their proprietors often fear
that openly donating to opposition parties could cost them
vital Government contracts.


8. (U) Lastly, participants debated the role of the
broadcast media in the election process. Dr. Masego
Mpotokwane, Chair of the National Broadcasting Board (NBB),
acknowledged the media's responsibility to assist citizens
to hold their representatives accountable. Although he said
that the NBB is working on a code of conduct for
broadcasters during elections, he refused to comment on the
controversial question of whether the state media should
cover party political events at which the President presides
the same way it covers events which involve him in his
capacity as head of state. During 2004, regulations
established by the Ministry of Communication, Science and
Technology, which required state media to cover any event
involving the President or Vice President, resulted in
copious television coverage for BDP candidates in comparison
to that enjoyed by their rivals. Skeptical of the impact of
a code of conduct, opposition party representatives focused
on state funding of political parties as a the most
effective means for equalizing access to broadcast media.


9. (U) In Ambassador Huggins' remarks to the conference, he
noted the invaluable example Botswana sets for the continent
and the developing world, as a stable democracy. He
challenged the participants to examine the IEC and the
constitutional and legislative context in which it operates
and to propose changes that would build upon its laudable


10. (U) One major theme of these deliberations was the
need to trim some of the powers wielded by the President.
This conclusion flies in the face of the cultural and
historical role of chiefs and the popular concept of the
President as a paramount chief, at least among the older
generation. It accounts for the deliberate concentration of
powers in the Presidency by the GOB over the years. More
recently, however, there is growing public concern in
Botswana regarding an over-mighty executive. Mission
continues to use partnerships such as that with the IEC to
advocate for reforms, such as developing more `checks and
balances,' to strengthen democracy in Botswana and enhance
its role as an example to other countries.


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