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Is Botswana headed for a hung Parliament (Part 1)?

Publishing Date : 17 September, 2019

NDULAMO ANTHONY MORIMA
EAGLE WATCH


Unlike in 2014 when it was clear that either the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) or Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) would win the general elections, this year it is not clear, with some opining that we may have a hung Parliament.


In this two-part series, we interrogate this issue. This week, we attempt to answer this question by making deductions from the political parties’ historical performance at the polls, starting from 1965. Next week, we attempt to answer this question by considering the threat to the BDP, if any, posed by the UDC (with the BCP) in collaboration with the BPF, albeit without the BMD and the AP. The BDP’s National Campaigns Manager, Tebelelo Seretse, is among those who do not agree that Botswana will have a hung Parliament after this year’s general elections scheduled for 23rd October 2019.


She is quoted in the Weekend Post’s online edition of 9th September 2019 saying “…realistically we are looking at the popular vote of above 52 percent since we didn’t do so well in the past elections…” She continues to say “…we are looking at about 60 or 65 percent popular vote if we have failed. In terms of constituencies we are looking at anything less than 50…” Seretse, however, seems to contradict herself when she says “…of course these elections are different because we don’t have what we may call safe constituencies because of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF)…”


But being the politician she is she quickly remedied the seeming contradiction when she said “…but we are confident that we will win because we have goodwill and the fact that AP ( Alliance for Progressives) and BMD (Botswana Movement for Democracy) are not part of the UDC is a plus to us.” In my view, it is what Seretse said first, as regards the BPF factor, and I would add, the AP and BMD factor, that may make Botswana, for the first time since independence, have a hung Parliament. But before we make any conclusions in that regard, we need to discuss factors that may lead to a hung Parliament.


For a country to have a hung Parliament one or both of two things must happen. In a first-past-the-post system like ours, this happens when the ruling party loses parliamentary seats in a significant way and/or the Opposition gains a significant number of parliamentary seats. In my view, in 2014, were it not for the Botswana Congress Party (BCP)’s disaffiliation from the UDC we could have had a hung Parliament or the UDC’s victory because the BDP lost 8 parliamentary seats while the UDC and the BCP collectively gained 11 parliamentary seats.


In terms of the first-past-the-post system, considering that we currently have 57 parliamentary constituencies, a party needs to win 29 parliamentary seats in order to form a government. Before the 2014 general elections this was not an issue for the BDP. The question is: will passing the post or threshold required to form a government be an issue for the BDP this year? As stated earlier, this week we attempt to answer this question by making deductions from the political parties’ historical performance at the polls, starting from 1965.


In 1965, there were 31 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 16 seats to form a government. The BDP won 28 seats compared to the Botswana National Front (BNF)’s 3 seats. It obtained 80.4% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 19.6%. In 1969, there were 31 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 16 seats to form a government. The BDP won 24 seats compared to 3, 1 and 3 for the BNF, Botswana Independence Party (BIP) and Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP) respectively. It obtained 68.83% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 31.67%.


In 1974, there were 32 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 17 seats to form a government. The BDP won 29 seats compared to 2 and 1 for the BNF and BPP respectively. It obtained 76.62% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 23.41%. In 1979, there were 32 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 17 seats to form a government. The BDP won 29 seats compared to 2 and 1 for the BNF and BPP respectively. It obtained 75.16% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 25.34%.


In 1984, there were 34 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 18 seats to form a government. The BDP won 29 seats compared to 4 and 1 for the BNF and BPP respectively. It obtained 68.00% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 32.00%. In 1989, there were 34 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 18 seats to form a government. The BDP won 31 seats compared to 4 for the BNF. It obtained 64.78% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 34.84%.


In 1994, there were 40 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 21 seats to form a government. The BDP won 27 seats compared to 13 for the BNF. It obtained 54.59% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 45.95%. In 1999, there were 40 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 21 seats to form a government. The BDP won 33 seats compared to 6 and 1 for the BNF and BCP respectively. It obtained 54.34% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 40.73%.


In 2004, there were 57 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 29 seats to form a government. The BDP won 44 seats compared to 12 and 1 for the BNF and BCP respectively. It obtained 50.63% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 45.60%. In 2009, there were 57 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 29 seats to form a government. The BDP won 45 seats compared to 6, 4 and 1 for the BNF, BCP and Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) respectively. It obtained 52.24% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 45.83%.


In 2014, there were 57 parliamentary seats and a party needed to win 29 seats to form a government. The BDP won 37 seats compared to 17 and 3 for the UDC and BCP respectively. It obtained 46.7% of the popular vote compared to the combined Opposition’s 50.04%. In view of the above, one can conclude that our country’s political history, in terms of political party performance at the polls, can be divided into four phases.


The first phase is the period between 1965 and 1989 when the BDP had a free reign. This, I submit, was mainly because of the popularity of its founding president, who was paramount chief of BaNgwato, the late Sir Seretse Khama. Incontrovertibly, judging by this phase alone, there is no way one can conclude that we may have a hung Parliament or that the BDP would lose elections. The second phase is 1994, when the BNF won a historic 13 seats, falling short of causing a hung Parliament or winning the elections by a mere 8 seats.  


In my view, if it were not for the splitting of votes among the other seven opposition political parties which contested the 1994 general elections, the BDP may have lost power.  These political parties were the BPP, Independence Freedom Party (IFP), Botswana Labour Party (BLP), Botswana Progressive Union (BPU), United Socialist Party (USP), Lesedi La Botswana (LLB) and United Democratic Front (UDF) which garnered 8.86% of the popular vote, but none of them gained a parliamentary seat.


Arguably, had these political parties entered into a coalition with the BNF, this 8.86% of the popular vote may have been increased because of the BNF’s electoral appeal at the time, something which could have given the BNF 8 seats which could at least have led to a hung Parliament. The third phase is the period between 1999 and 2009 when the BDP went back to its free reigning years. This, I submit, was mainly because of the damage caused by the BNF split of 1998 which gave birth to the BCP.


In my view, though the BCP won only one seat in 1999 and 2004, it split opposition votes in favor of the BDP. No doubt, the 11.31% and 16.27% of the popular vote which the BCP garnered in 1999 and 2004 respectively caused considerable damage to the Opposition’s chances of winning state power. The fourth phase is the year 2014 when the BDP could have lost power had it not been for the BCP’s disaffiliation from the UDC.


An analysis of the latter two phases shows one common trend. This is that, it is the Opposition’s splits and/or disaffiliations, mainly at the BCP’s instance, which made a hung Parliament or Opposition victory impossible. The question is: will this year, 2019, be any different? Once again, the Opposition goes to the polls limping. But this time, BCP is not the culprit. The culprits are the BMD and the AP. But just like 2014, this year is different. It is not only the Opposition which suffered a split. The BDP too suffered a split which gave birth to the BPF.


It is the BMD, AP, BPF and Khama factors, counterbalanced with the Masisi factor, which make this year’s elections difficult to call or too close to call, at least based on the political parties’ historical performance at the polls alone. The answer to the question: Is Botswana headed for a hung Parliament can, therefore, not be answered by considering the political parties’ historical performance at the polls alone. Hopefully, it will be answered next week after considering the threat to the BDP, if any, posed by the UDC (with the BCP) in collaboration with the BPF, albeit without the BMD and the AP.
   
 

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