Botswana: Why the Botswana election is a tough one
By Oarabile Mosikare
The October 24 general elections are likely be the most competitive in the history of Botswana. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), 824,073 eligible voters have registered to vote in this year's elections.
This is a slight increment from the 2009 elections, where 712,494 voters registered. Botswana's population currently stands at 2.021 million. Just like in the previous elections, more females have registered to vote than their male counterpart. Of the 824,073 voters, 455,869 are female, while the remaining 368,204 are male. But just as in the past, few females will stand for political office.
The IEC Executive Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso, a few months back told Ntlo Ya Dikgosi (formerly House of Chiefs) that he was impressed that youth are now showing a positive response towards registering and contesting for political positions.
Three political parties, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will battle out for supremacy, come October 24.
The BDP has been in power since the country attained independence in 1966. Led by the retired army general, President Ian Khama, the BDP goes to the poll after experiencing a major split for the first time in 2010. The split resulted in the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).
Already, there are indications that this will not be business-as-usual elections. This will be the first election after the 2010 split, and the impact of the split is likely to be reflected in the election results.
Out of 57 constituencies, the party that garners 29 seats forms a government. A Canada-based political scientist with extensive knowledge about Botswana politics, Professor Amy Poteete, says the 2014 general elections are expected to be more competitive and volatile than any previous election Botswana has seen.
In her blog, the professor says the formation of the BMD and the fall-out over disputed primary elections might trigger higher magnitude vote swings in some constituencies that were uncompetitive in 2009. This is also supported by the fact that the November 2013 BDP primary elections were the most acrimonious in the history of the party.
Never before have we had such a high number of candidates choosing to leave the BDP to contest as independent candidates or join the opposition. There are about 230 independent candidates and most are disgruntled former BDP members. Most of them alleged irregularities after losing the primaries. This will have an impact on the BDP performance.
Like Poteete, the 2014 Afrobarometer survey shows that this will be a highly competitive election. Afrobarometer reports that an increasing number of Batswana see the opposition as a viable alternative. There is also the issue of corruption, which respondents to the survey say is a concern. Media reports are awash with stories of corruption perpetrated by high-ranking public servants.
There have been extensive reports that the Director of Intelligence and Security, Isaac Kgosi is corrupt. Despite the damning evidence against Kgosi, Khama has refused to fire him. Khama is not seen as strong on fighting corruption, and this could also impact on the party performance. It has been reported that he used army personnel and other government employees to build himself a holiday home in Mosu.
Despite all these, he does not think there is corruption in Botswana. The President recently told a BDP rally that there is no corruption in Botswana. He alleged that the corruption cases reported in the media were a fertile imagination of the opposition and their allies in the private media.
This will also be the first election after the global recession, so the ruling party's delivery will be put to test. Because of recession, the government has not been able to deliver on a number of promised projects. For instance, it abandoned the million-Pula Palapye Glass Project, and the Francistown Stadium that was supposed to be ready for the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa is still behind schedule.
Despite all the stakes against it, the BDP will go to the elections fighting with everything at its disposal. The stakes are high, and a new form of political campaign strategy has taken the political landscape of Botswana by storm. The build-up to the general elections is unprecedented, judging by the millions of Pula the three political parties have so far splashed on the campaign.
As it is, the ruling BDP in April this year unveiled 57 branded vehicles for all the 57 constituencies. The party treasurer, Satar Dada, provided these campaign vehicles. The motor magnate has been consistently providing branded campaign vehicles for the ruling party over the years.
The intention is to penetrate the whole country and sustain visibility to reaffirmation that the BDP is the only party that can move Botswana forward. A few months ago, the party changed its election tagline from, 'The party you can still trust' to 'Moving Botswana forward.' It is not clear why this change was made just a few months before the elections.
There is no political party funding law in Botswana, and the sources of the money used by the parties in their elections campaign are shrouded in secrecy. During the unveiling of the campaign vehicles, Dada kept the costs of all these vehicles close to his chest. But it is believed that the cost runs into several millions of Pula, in a country in which 373,388 people (20.7% of the population) live under the poverty datum line.
In June this year, the BDP also confirmed that it had hired a consulting company to help it win this year's general elections. The party does not want to disclose the name of the company, but it is believed to be Israeli owned Timor Consulting. Timor Consulting has a track record of managing election campaigns in Israel, South America and Europe. Although it dismisses claims of rigging as baseless, there are fears that the BDP will do anything to win the polls.
On the other hand, the UDC has also upped its elections campaign. The UDC is a coalition of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP). The UDC was formed to bring together all 'progressive forces' under one banner. It seeks to create a platform for all those who want to bring about change of government. It is contesting 52 out of the 57 constituencies. It also seeks to ensure that the people of Botswana share in the economic prosperity of their country, and seeks to make opposition vote-splitting a thing of the past.
Under the leadership of the flamboyant, Harvard-trained human rights lawyer, Duma Boko, the UDC is looking at effecting regime change in the coming general elections. The theme of its manifesto is, 'Embrace Change - Real Change.'
In its manifesto, it says regime change is about real change, change in the structure of the economy. It will look at amending the Constitution and strengthening of Botswana's democracy. It argues that Batswana should benefit from the resources of their country, and promises to intensify efforts to bring about beneficiation in the mining sector.
The UDC perceives the corrupt political situation as a direct result of elite capture, and its own role as that of reclaiming the country for the people. Just recently, the party hosted the mother of all launches for its president, Boko. The party also unveiled seven branded buses as part of elections campaign. The UDC has disclosed neither its benefactors nor the costs of this fleet.
Another serious contender is the BCP, under the leadership of seasoned parliamentarian, Dumelang Saleshando. The BCP will be contesting in 54 constituencies, and recently launched its manifesto, themed 'BCP- Ready to Lead- Leading Botswana Out of the Crossroads.' "We have a proven track record of stability and sound organization.
We present in this manifesto clear alternative policies for Botswana, anchored on social democratic principles. This ten-point manifesto focuses on critical areas of national life - namely the economy, energy and water resources, labour relations, education, land and housing, health, governance, gender equality, youth development, international relations and trade," reads part of the manifesto.
The BCP also recently unveiled its presidential tour bus, which will visit more than 80 villages before the elections. Saleshando has been touring with the bus for the past few weeks, and he is expected to unveil a chopper during the final week of campaigns. Just like the UDC and the BDP, the party is secretive about its sponsors.
Like in the previous elections, the BDP continues to monopolize news coverage in the state media. The political rallies addressed by President Khama and his government ministers dominate the headlines in the Daily News, Radio Botswana and Botswana Television.
The opposition is hardly featured in the state media. On the other hand, the private media continue to give coverage to all the parties despite the limited resources. The problem with the private media is that unlike the state media, they are not easily accessible in remote areas. So the rural population is at the mercy of propaganda churned out by the state owned media.
But despite the obvious biases against the opposition, Radio Botswana earlier in September started radio debates for parliamentary candidates. All the candidates have embraced this rather unusual good gesture.
The private radio station, GabzFm, also has done the same. Despite the fact that the BDP took part in the planning of these debates, they later boycotted them citing the fact that their nemesis, the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), was one of the sponsors. The BOFEPUSU is on record saying its more than 90,000 members should support the UDC. Other GabzFm sponsors are the United States of America Embassy and the British High Commission.
Nevertheless, political observers are of the view that the lavish spending by all the political parties is a signal of the death of the left in Botswana's political landscape. "With the case of Botswana, I see what appears to be a decline of the left actually. In this election, more than any other, our political parties are converging towards the centre. The BDP and the BCP are no doubt centre-right parties.
"The BNF, which has been the bastion of the left, has been hugely diluted by its UDC coalition. The UDC Manifesto is a document that is to the centre-right. The extreme leftists within the BNF are actually among those who have revolted against its joining the Umbrella," argued political analyst, Lawrence Ookeditse. He said the likes of Poloko Monang, Gabriel Kanjabanga and Lemogang Ntime are radical leftists who are disenchanted. "The leftists within, such as Dr Elmon Tafa, have also not had much of an influence, given the electoral promises from the UDC are a leaf from neo-liberal economics."
Further, Themba Joina of the Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin (MELS) party has also since joined the BCP and his scientific Marxism will no doubt be diluted, he further argued. "Save for isolated acts of defiance and solidarity with trade unions, the left is not any brighter in this country than it ever has been. Perhaps the material conditions of the people in Botswana make it difficult for a revolutionary political party that is leftist," Ookeditse said.
Salvation of the left in Botswana would have been in a growing population of unemployed young people - but that battalion of young people is largely concerned about becoming middle class and petty bourgeoisie.