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Reproach of neglecting disabled persons in voter registration

The Botswana Council for the Disabled (BCD) has expressed concern that thousands of disabled people will not be able to vote in general elections since they were unable to register. Barry Eustice, BCD management advisor, said the disabled and the elderly had been disenfranchised because of a lack of physical access to buildings where the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) conducted voter registration. The registration exercise ended last month. "Thousands of disabled people were not able to register because the IEC conducted the exercise mostly in classrooms which have prohibitive steps and no access provisions for the disabled or wheelchair users. This also created problems for the elderly, and the result was total discouragement for people in this category," Eustice complained. He said the BCD was currently in talks with the IEC on how to make registration and voting more accessible for the disabled, the blind, the elderly and the frail.

Although no comment was forthcoming from the IEC, Denis Alexander, a member of the government's legislative coordinating committee on disability, admitted that a lot needed to be done, especially around issues of accessibility. "Besides the election issue, it is disappointing to note that most of the new buildings are still not user-friendly for the disabled and elderly," he said. Botswana was forced to extend its voter registration deadline by more than a week following a low turnout in the initial exercise. Campaigning for the October elections kicked off last week with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) electing incumbent President Festus Mogae unopposed as its flag bearer. The BDP has won every general election since independence in 1966. (IRIN)

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