The simmering debate about political party funding was always destined to be a hot topic in this year's general elections, given the expected closeness of the contest.
Fair or not, political contests at some level are competitions around funding. Parties and their candidates require resources to go out and reach the electorate with their messaging, before they can actually compete on the content of their manifestos and pledges.
In the absence of political party funding legislation under which the state would undertake to sponsor political groupings, political parties are forced to go cap in hand to donors whose interests in providing sponsorship are rarely altruistic or aligned to noble democratic values.
In fact, as elections in the US have consistently shown, captains of capital are often eager to “buy influence” in political office by sponsoring candidates who will endorse or otherwise support their commercial agenda.
Our neighbour, South Africa, is grappling with a similar scandal where the rich backers of President Cyril Ramaphosa have been exposed and some of their agendas shown to be strikingly similar to what the ruling party is pursuing. At home, the competition for resources among parties and candidates competing for the October ballot was rightly expected to peak in 2019, given the tightness of the 2014 race.
And in the routine mudslinging that precedes political competitions, allegations have been bandied about on numerous platforms about the source and nature of funding political parties have received this year. One party is alleged to have sealed a deal in China, another is said to be linked to a “shady”
One is said to have links to a firm steeped in a scandal involving public funds. Another is even alleged to be funded by a rival for the purposes of splitting opponent’s votes and/or obfuscating issues.
In the absence of legislation around political party funding, about where parties can source funding from, about how much they are required to disclose, the issue of which actors are funding the country’s most competitive elections since Independence has become a matter of public speculation.
Equally in the absence of guiding legislation, it is difficult to say whether lines have been crossed in the campaigning for political sponsorship. Even as the silhouettes of political sponsors stand over the election, Batswana need to keep focussed on the fact that at the end of the day, political contests are strictly about securing votes.
In deciding which box to tick, voters must soberly reflect on their own circumstances, the pledges from the competing parties, the calibre of the candidates and the future they desire for Botswana.
Whatever the sponsors’ motives, the integrity of the Republic must and should be upheld by our Constitution, the various institutions established since Independence and our hallowed rule of law. Voters must therefore also consider which individuals or party can best be trusted with upholding the Republic’s integrity.
“Integrity is the lifeblood of democracy. Deceit is a poison in its veins.”
– Edward Kennedy