Botswana court rebuffs president
08 November 2014, 10:55
Gaborone - Botswana's High Court on Friday rebuffed an attempt by President Ian Khama's party to change parliamentary voting rules, amid concerns that he is trying to impose his brother 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 - a move which would expose any who opposed his choice.
"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."
Parliament's rules provide for secret ballot voting for the vice president, the speaker and deputy speaker of parliament.
But government and 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, rumoured to be his brother, Tshekedi Khama.
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.
It was an argument the panel of three judges agreed with.
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.