/ 11 November 2014

Botswana court foils president’s attempt to appoint brother as VP

Botswana President Ian Khama wanted lawmakers to vote by a show of hands for his deputy
Botswana President Ian Khama wanted lawmakers to vote by a show of hands for his deputy

Botswana’s government says it will accept a court ruling that effectively thwarts President Ian Khama’s bid to appoint his brother, Tshekedi Khama, as vice-president.

Khama, re-elected for a second term last month, wanted lawmakers to vote by a show of hands for his deputy, instead of through a secret ballot that would have allowed a party revolt, exposing any who opposed his choice.

This followed a ruling in Botswana’s High Court on Friday that also deemed a secret parliamentary ballot constitutional. “A secret ballot is a hallmark of a free and fair election within our representative democracy,” said Justice Michael Leburu in the Gaborone High Court.

“The right to vote is an indispensable feature of our democracy. It is therefore important that voting must be free from intimidation and or coercion.”

The executive issued a statement late on Tuesday, saying: “Government accepts that the matter has been resolved and wishes to assure the public that it will respect and fully implement the decision of the court.”

Secret ballot
Khama had faced a backlash from within his own party over the prospect of Tshekedi being vice-president, with parliamentarians accusing the president of trying to create a dynasty in one of Africa’s most democratic nations.

Parliament’s rules provide for secret ballot voting for the vice president, the speaker and deputy speaker of Parliament. But government and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) lawyers argued in court that this went against the “open and transparent” aspirations of the Constitution.

They called for the voting process to return to a public show of hands – a request widely derided as an attempt to browbeat parliamentarians into accepting Khama’s choice for vice-president. They asked for an urgent ruling on the application to avoid a constitutional crisis.

Opposition party lawyers countered that the same voting process had been in place unchallenged for years, and was used to endorse Khama as vice-president in 1999 and 2004. They said the secret ballot protected lawmakers from undue influence from the president – an argument the panel of three judges agreed with.

The leading opposition party, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), called the ruling “a victory for democracy”.

Growing discontent
Botswana went to the polls last month in elections that saw the BDP winning with less than 50% of the vote for the first time since it came to power in 1966. Khama’s party still enjoys the support of a generation of voters won over with high spending on education and welfare benefits. 

But there is growing discontent among younger voters and the urban middle class, who say change is due after nearly five decades of BDP rule.

Though the country is routinely held up as a paragon of good governance on the continent, its ruling party has been criticised recently for attempts to stifle dissent. – Sapa