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Tomorrow’s election more of the same

Titus Mbuya
Democratic rights: Voters during the previous general elections
The outcome of the general elections to be held tomorrow will not be substantially different from that of the last three general elections, writes TITUS MBUYA, whoa has covered elections in Botswana for the last 25 years

First things first. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) will emerge as the winner in the general elections to be held tomorrow. The contest to watch will be the one between the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) for second position. While the combined number of votes for the two opposition parties might be at par with that of the BDP the ruling party will win the majority of parliamentary seats with a convincing margin. The BDP could win up to 37 seats.

Put differently, the pattern that started forming during the 1999 elections following the breakaway of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) from the Botswana National Front (BNF), will be maintained this year. There is nothing to suggest that there will be a deviation inspite of the change in the political landscape occasioned by the formation of the UDC.

The media, both print and electronic, have given the impression that this is going to be a closely contested election. This is wishful thinking. It is not borne out by the facts on the ground. Feeding into the narrative that there might be a “hung parliament”, stories have been awash in the press lately that the BDP is going to steal the election in order to cling on to power.

The problems that marred the advance voting process last Saturday, mainly due to the incompetence of the staff of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), have obviously fuelled such conspiracy theories despite the assurance by the Chief Elections Officer, Gabriel Seeletso, about the integrity of the elections. Of course the BDP leadership should also take responsibility for creating anxiety among people by saying that if the opposition wins there will be instability in the country. 

The game changer in this year’s election was supposed to be the civil servants’ vote. Since the 2011 historic workers strike the federation representing civil servants’ trade unions, BOFEPUSU, pledged to support the opposition parties to unseat the ruling party in the forthcoming elections. Such support would be given on condition that the opposition parties worked together. That’s how the UDC project came about. Missing from the Umbrella, though, is the BCP, which means that the opposition is still divided right in the middle as it was before.

While the impact of the workers’ vote on the outcome of the elections cannot be discounted that alone cannot deliver victory for the opposition.  Organised labour in Botswana is fickle. The recent spate of recrimination among the unions is so amateurish and does not inspire any confidence. Needless to say, that the divisions in the labour movement are politically motivated. They reflect the partisanship that exists within the membership of unions which makes it impossible for them to vote as a block.

This points to a fundamental problem in local trade unions. There is a deficit of consciousness in organised labour. The reason for lack of consciousness among workers in Botswana is that they are not a class in the strictest sense of the word. A class is a group of people with shared material conditions coming to a positive self-consciousness of their social position. Until workers put their party loyalties aside and coalesce around common issues of interest to them they cannot be trusted to bring about change in their working conditions because

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whatever party is in power will always divide them.

The fractious nature of the opposition is the biggest elephant in the room for the UDC and the BCP going into tomorrow’s election. The split-vote factor might hurt the opposition more than ever before. The failed unity project has dealt the opposition a big blow. There is no point dwelling on the reasons why the project failed now. Suffice it to say that the opposition in Botswana has a history of letting egos and self-interest get in the way of strategic thinking during such engagements. This is a sign of poor leadership.

The outcome of tomorrow’s election will decide if the unity project can still be pursued. If both parties make a strong showing that might dash the prospect of resuming unity talks in the future. For unity to be possible one of the two parties must be vanquished, and it appears that is what the two rivals wish for each other.

Since the first general elections in 1965, the BDP has always either come first or second place in all constituencies. This trend is not expected to change tomorrow. That reality should be disconcerting to the opposition. Among other things, what it means is that, for any of the opposition parties to win in a given constituency the other one has to be very weak.

If the two opposition parties are both strong in a constituency then the BDP stands a better chance to walk away with that constituency. This is double jeopardy (trekshag) for the opposition, because what it means is that the more they grow strong as individual parties the more they become weak, relatively, in opposition to the BDP.

Having said that, it is also true that in this election the split-vote factor will not only be a headache for the opposition, but also for the ruling party, albeit to a lesser extent. For the BDP this election will be remembered for the largest number of mekoko (independent candidates) who broke away from the party. This was to be expected given the controversy surrounding the conduct of the party’s primary elections last year.

Many candidates who lost did not accept the outcome of the primaries because they felt that they were cheated. Perhaps, the poster-boy of these mekoko is Moeng Pheto who is standing in Mopane/Lentsweletau constituency. The high incidence of the mokoko phenomenon in the BDP is an indictment on the ruling party’s ability to manage conflict.

Although at constituency level the mokoko factor might not adversely affect the BDP, it is at local government elections level that the ruling party might take a knock. Evidently, candidates at ward level are not always elected on the basis of the party they represent per se, but on the strength of their individual interaction with the electorate, while at constituency level the people vote for the party. It is worth noting that the largest proportion of BDP mekoko, both at constituency and council levels, is in the heartland of the BDP’ s support base, the Central District! This could be a turning point in the fortunes of the party in that district which straddles 16 constituencies.

The rebellion within the ranks of the BDP could be a foreshadow of worse things to come for the ruling party.



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