GABORONE – Botswana’s president has proposed extending a state of emergency in the southern African country to last six months. President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the measure is needed because people are not complying with restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Critics worry the plan, if initiated, would put too much power in the hands of the president.
Botswana’s parliament will convene on Wednesday to deliberate on Masisi’s proposal.
The president wants the state of emergency, declared last week in reaction to the outbreak of the coronavirus, to last six months.
Initially, Masisi had announced a 28-day lockdown period after the southern African country recorded its first six coronavirus cases, including one death, last week.
“I will cause, therefore, to be a meeting of parliament at which I will seek the endorsement of parliament to extend the state of public emergency for a total period of six months, for the single purpose of dealing with COVID-19, totally based on the signs available and the advice we got from our experts,” he said.
Under the state of emergency, the president will hold absolute power.
Local political analyst Lawrence Ookeditse argues such a move would pose a risk to the country’s democracy.
“For a republic, for a democracy and for a country in which the leading president and the leading party won an election on the basis of the rule of law, I think it’s too long a period of time. It brings in a period of instability and uncertainty,” he said.
Masisi said the rule of law will be respected during the state of emergency.
“Those who are schooled in law advised that it is not a suspension of the constitution, neither will it be a total abrogation of rights people hold, as courts will function. Any matter can be taken to court if anybody believes their rights have been unduly oppressed,” he said.
Masisi’s ruling Botswana Democratic Party has control of the National Assembly, after winning 38 of the 57 seats in parliament in last October’s general election.