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System error or human error?

All election systems, as with all Constitutions, have their advantages and disadvantages. There is no perfect model. That said, the Westminster or first past the post electoral system has come in for stern criticism during the last week or so accompanied by calls for the adoption of a system that is fairer to all contesting parties.

As far as I can remember, similar calls were routinely made after each of the last few elections and the arguments were much the same as those being made today. Thus, were the recent election figures re-tabulated according to percentage votes gained, the representation in Parliament would flatten out with the three contesting parties achieving a better balance in the number of their MPs.  I don’t question the contention – which is straightforward - but I do question its relevance.  When we went into the election, it must have been well understood by the leaders of all the political parties, and by a significant number of voters, that the new government would be formed by the party which won a majority of constituencies, not by the party which enjoyed a larger percentage of the overall vote. 

Similarly it would or should have been long understood that the first past the post system is much like a boxing match between two contestants; one wins, the other loses with the winner, generally, achieving a clear mandate to govern. After ten elections, and repeated failed attempts by the opposition to unseat the BDP, it must have been obvious that putting three contestants into a boxing ring designed for two was bound to give problems for one of them - which would be the first to be eliminated? When, election after election, opposition parties decide to go it alone they must always have understood that the weakest of the three would probably end up with derisory returns. But election after election, the opposition have gone into the ring fully aware that the system would inevitably disadvantage one of them. But each time around, they have agreed on the terms laid down. True, they could argue that they had little choice because they were unable to change the system. But the results of election after election have shown, as clearly as the moon, that two taking on one does not work. The result has always been that the two split the vote and the one, gratefully, runs away with the prize. Amazingly, the opposition parties over the years have proved unable or unwilling to accept this reality. 

The party that routinely misses out then complains

that the system is unfair: As is now happening with the BCP. Seemingly, it was super confident that it would annihilate the Umbrella and rout the BDP.  Apparently it had not the slightest idea that it would do neither. In retrospect, given the outcome, it might now be reflecting that the BDP would have been defeated if it had gone into the election as part of the Umbrella?  Or contrarily if the Umbrella, as the junior entity, had somehow felt it wise to join forces with the BCP – which would have needed some sort of Super Umbrella. What had not been obvious to the politicians, however, was abundantly clear to the well informed electorate which, this time around, vented its frustration on the party it deemed to be most culpable. It knew that, yet again, it had been denied the chance to decide which of two parties it wanted to form the government. Blaming the system may help to relieve the bruising but otherwise is of zero value. But then something similar might be said of the government owned Botswana Television and Radio Botswana which did a very poor job in reporting the election results. BTV provided the absolute minimum, a radio service with still photographs of its reporters, whilst RB in between its announcement of results, played the same dreary song again and again and again.  I am surprised that both services have not been widely denounced. BTV in particular was content to provide the absolute minimum but both were sadly dreary.

Lastly, a comment of a very different kind but this time of appreciation.  Long ago, I got to know ‘Fox’ Diseko well when he was the District Commissioner’s clerk in Mochudi and regularly played tennis. Years later we teamed up again at the IEC where Fox, the ever dedicated civil servant, did his job efficiently and effectively, with pride and a lively sense of humour. Over the years, it has been my great good fortune to have known a number of amazing people who I have much admired. Fox was not only one of that number but someone who would take his place near the top. He was a really lovely person.

Etcetera II



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