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BDP has no guarantee of 2019 electoral victory – report

Publishing Date : 09 September, 2019

Author : UTLWANANG GASENNELWE

For the first time in the history of the country, ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), has no guarantee of winning the 2019 General Elections. According to the Africa report titled “Botswana unravels: unmasking Africa’s democracy poster child”, released on Wednesday 28th August 2019, the BDP finds itself not in the obvious books of old glory and landslide victories.


“The election is too close to call. For the first time since 1965, despite having a slight edge, BDP has no guarantee of electoral victory,” the report boldly states. It posits that a lot hangs on how BDP supporters react to former president Ian Khama’s new party, Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).  “If the majority of BaNgwato follow their chief, the BDP hegemony will be dented and the first past the post system will not help BDP. It is likely that the BDP already, losing numbers, will at least lose some supporters,” it emphasizes.


The report insists that the Khama factor cannot be ignored, and that although he is loathed in the urban areas, he is still popular in the rural areas, in particular in BaNgwato (Central District). It is not yet clear what impact the entry into opposition politics by Khama is likely to have on the outcome of the upcoming 2019 elections in October. However, the best case is Khama, riding on his chieftainship, will haemorrhage BaNgwato votes from the BDP, causing it the greatest damage ever. It further says that only a united opposition would be devastating and likely defeat BDP.


The central region in the country is huge and the biggest. Of the total 57 constituencies, it has 15 constituencies. In the past election, in 2014, BDP won all of them. Khama’s influence on his subjects to turn against the BDP not clear Africa report further says however, that it is not clear whether he (Khama) can influence his “subjects” to turn against the ruling BDP.   “But, the politicisation of ethnicity or the ethnicisation of politics is not a good thing. It has been the foundation of Africa’s problems. However, this may not matter to Khama as the Paramount Chief of the BaNgwato,” it states.  


The report highlights that although when he left office last year, Khama backed his Vice president, Mokgwetsi Masisi, to succeed him, and the relationship between the two has soured since then. Moreover, it makes mention that the jury is out on what the impact of the fallout – played out in public – between Khama and incumbent President Masisi will be. “He has fallen out with his predecessor and formed his party, the BPF; the worst-case scenario would be to add to the already divided opposition and only increase the vote split, to the benefit of the BDP,” report posits.


Khama’s legacy working against him and the opposition

But Khama was not universally loved, the report asserts while adding that he was said to be dictatorial, running the party and government as he did the army, which he headed before becoming president. His intelligence unit was widely feared and allegedly intimidated and abducted people, report continues.


It further says that he attacked judicial independence by threatening, intimidating, and even suspending judges and forcing them to apologise. He also muzzled the press with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), arresting and detaining journalists for exposing corruption, it points out.


In addition Africa report explained that the feared Directorate for Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) arrested and detained journalists, charging them with sedition for reporting on allegations of corruption related to R250-million purchase of train wagons by Botswana Railways. Under Khama, the report asserted that the country slid into authoritarianism. “Policy decisions related to land and wildlife directly benefited Khama financially. Critics of his unfair treatment of the indigenous San – original inhabitants of the country – were intimidated if they were local and expelled if they were foreigners.”


The San themselves, it says, have been pushed off their land, which has been appropriated for mining, allocated for large-scale agriculture or for wildlife tourism – in which Khama is believed to have personal and financial interests. “Public funds have been used to build a luxurious holiday villa for Khama. The hushed whispers and grumblings were that Khama was running the country as a paternalistic feudal chief would a chiefdom, or as an army general would run his army.”


Skewed electoral system may still benefit the BDP, but not cast-iron


According to the Africa report, the first-past-the-post electoral system can help elect into power candidates or parties with very little popular support.  In previous years, BDP’s support was narrow, ranging between 51% and 55% but was still kept in power.  “In the 2014 election, for example, the BDP won 37 out of 57 possible seats. In numbers, 37 seats translated to 320,657 votes. The opposition and independents collectively garnered 369,595 votes translating to only 20 seats. Aided by divided, single-minded, and individualistic opposition parties, unable to come together to defeat it, the BDP successfully retained power minus “popular” support,” report highlights.


It seems preposterous that, with far fewer people voting for it than they did for the opposition, the BDP not only won 17 more seats than the opposition in Parliament but also the mandate to govern, reports highlighted adding that the skewed nature of the electoral system is what has kept the BDP in power.


“Irrespective of the allegations of vote rigging by the opposition, clearly the system is rigged. Unless it is reformed to make it more inclusive by ensuring that actual votes translate into some say in government, the BDP will continue to retain power even as the numbers of Batswana that vote for it compared to the opposition continue to dwindle.”  There are many permutations, report says adding that the first-past-the-post system continues to present a challenge and unless the opposition unites as one unit and presents single candidates, it is likely to favour the ruling party.

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