Recently, the parliament of Botswana adopted a motion instigating an electoral reform towards a direct election of the president. The move, if successful after a referendum, will be a radical shift from an indirect election in which the president is picked from a party that won elections.
Explaining the adoption of the indirect election since independence in 1966, the late former President Sir Ketumile Masire, said the system was less chaotic than its counterpart. Elections cue most of the political unrest in the African continent and often at the presidential stage, he posited. Botswana’s elections have been without incidents during the 5 -year interval ritual for more than half a century. The twelfth elections are earmarked for October this year (2019).
The question remains, does Botswana, let alone the continent, need the direct elections, despite all the evidence that they spark a violent streak that often leaves thousands dead?
Those pro direct election claim that the system epitomizes democracy at work; that nothing beats the beauty of a voter directly picking his choice for president. In Botswana, specifically, this argument is often juxtaposed with the constitutional powers given to the president. Among these powers are Section 41 of the constitution which forbids litigation against the president. He appoints the cabinet and can dissolve parliament and call for snap elections anytime he wishes. They argue that since the president already enjoys some of these powers, why not let the president get the mandate directly from the people? Somehow this will provide the moral justification for the executive powers.
But has anything really broken? The adage that if not broken why fix it, plays itself out here. The call for direct elections is mainly for academic profiling and offer no practical benefits. Botswana’s democracy has benefited from a seamless tolerance bereft of explosive episodes at election times. A look at countries that have gone through political strife such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Madagascar reveal a common denominator in the form of direct elections of presidents. The same cannot be said about the likes of South Africa and others that do not carry out the same system.
Outside Africa, there are countries like the US, Germany, and India that do not directly elect their presidents although with diverse variations. The US, for instance, has presidential elections that are highly contested but eventually decided over an electoral college method.
Perhaps, the debate should be on the choice between stability and instability during elections. One would ask, what’s worthy about going for direct elections in the name of democracy, but with a litany of corpses to clean up thereafter?
In any case, it is not like in indirect elections; people are not aware of the presidential candidates before elections. In Botswana, for instance, parties are required to nominate, before the chief justice, their presidential candidates, backed by 1000 supporting signatures before the national elections.
By Thapelo Ndlovu
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