The eventuality of a hung Parliament in next week's general elections does not exist because the disunity of the opposition will deliver the BDP an outright majority to form a government, writes TITUS MBUYA
The phrase “hung parliament” has been used in this year’s election cycle more than ever before. The term is used in legislatures that follow the Westminster system, such as Botswana’s, to describe a situation in which no particular party has an “absolute majority” of legislators in parliament.
Absolute majority or “outright majority” is a situation in which one political party wins more than half of the total seats in parliament in a general election.
Having explained what a hung parliament is, the question that follows is, will Botswana have one after the 23rd October general elections? Contrary to wide speculation that these elections will produce a hung parliament, the answer to that question is “no”.
One of the parties will win the elections with an outright majority. And that party is likely to be the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). In other words in all probability the BDP is poised, at the very least, to realise the threshold of 29 seats that is required to form a government in this year’s elections.
This is regardless of whether or not they increase the 47% of the popular vote that the party realised in 2014.
That averment, however, does not in any way, shape or form, suggest that it is going to be a walk in the park for the BDP.
The stakes are too high. Needless to say, four or so months ago the country appeared to be on the cusp of a possible change of government for the first time since this country’s first general elections in 1965, following the departure of the former president Ian Khama from his late father’s party, the BDP to form his own party, Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).
One would have to concede, from the onset, that without the benefit of any scientific poll having been conducted in any of the 57 constituencies one cannot tell with absolute certainty what the outcome would be.
However, there are a number of factors at play in the build-up to these elections that are self-evident, an assessment of which can assist one as they gaze through the crystal ball to estimate what is likely to happen on the 23rd of this month.
First, the polarising effect of Ian Khama is as strong, and toxic, in this election cycle as it was during the last elections, if not stronger.
The only difference this year is that Khama has managed to divide both the BDP and the main opposition party, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in a profound way.
Khama is a double-edged sword. He is both a curse and blessing equally to the BDP and the UDC. He is a curse to the BDP in the sense that he has taken a large chunk of voters with him to his new political home, the BPF, especially in the traditional heartland of the BDP, the Central District.
But his departure is also a blessing to the BDP because since he has now defined himself out of the party, it can deal with him as harshly as it can unencumbered as it was evident from the way Dorcas Makgato castigated him recently.
The BDP mantra going forward is not to spare him, and to go out and mobilise the party faithful in his backyard! Khama is a blessing to the UDC, especially in the central and northern parts of the country.
In marginal constituencies like Bobonong and possibly, though to a lesser extent, Ramokgonami, he might bring them just enough votes for their candidates to scrape through.
But he is also a curse to the party in that many UDC sympathisers, especially in the southern part of the country, have been alienated from the party owing to the dalliance of the UDC leadership with Khama.
Second, as if the divisive nature of Khama was not enough, the antipathy that many people have towards him, especially since he started undermining the current president, has earned Masisi sympathy across the board.
The collective sense of justice of many Batswana is inclined to give Masisi a chance to govern just like Khama and his predecessors were given that opportunity without any interference.
Furthermore, the resentment towards Khama, especially in southern Botswana, has helped Masisi energise the BDP base in a way only reminiscent to the 1980s before the advent of factions that tore the party apart.
To his credit Masisi has been very strategic in creating momentum by effectively harnessing the “back love” for the party by many members who had hitherto become apathetic.
The sight of elderly men and women in party regalia, which has been a common feature in BDP rallies recently, should be a concern for the opposition. These are the owners of the party who will go to the polls on the 23rd, come rain or sunshine, to ensure that the BDP retains power.
The stalwarts feel appreciated by the new party leader, and it is on the crest of this goodwill that Masisi is now riding.
This is in stark contrast to what is happening in the UDC, where the veterans of one of the constituent members of the Umbrella, Botswana National Front, seem to be at loggerheads with the party leadership, and may not be too enthusiastic to vote in these elections because they feel left out in the affairs of the party.
Third, typical of the opposition in Botswana the parties are cannibalising each other. The opposition is its own enemy. There is no gainsaying that if the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) had been part of the UDC in the 2014 general elections that coalition of parties would have been in power as the country goes to the polls next week.
The opposition finds itself divided again this election cycle. So, even with the BCP back in the UDC fold the absence of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), and to a lesser extent the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), the divisions are going to adversely affect the opposition’s performance in these elections.
Granted that the BCP is much bigger than the AP and BMD put together, the UDC does not enjoy the same kind of goodwill and momentum that it created amongst voters across party lines in 2014.
They will also not have the sympathy vote that they got following the untimely death of the party’s charismatic vice president, Gomolemo Motswaledi.
Fourth, it cannot be gainsaid that Labour was an important factor for the UDC’s electoral fortunes in the last elections. The largest trade union federation in the country, BOFEPUSU threw its weight behind the UDC much to the chagrin of the ruling party.
They even had a hit-list of BDP candidates who they wanted to bring down, and they largely succeeded in doing so.
The same cannot be said about this election cycle. Labour is very clear that they are not backing any horse, although some of their leadership have clearly nailed their colours to the BDP mast.
Masisi has been proactive in reaching out to trade unions lately, something that has distinguished him from his predecessor, Khama, who was viewed by Labour not only as being indifferent to the plight of workers, but even worse than that, as a dictator.
The BDP is likely to reap electoral fortunes from this development at the expense of the UDC.
Having dealt with the objective realities on the ground which are going to influence the outcome of the election, one would be remiss if he did not comment on the conduct of the campaign of the two main protagonists in this contest, namely the BDP and the UDC.
Both parties put up a spirited campaign as their leaders crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country to market their party policies and programmes.
Besides the word of mouth by the two leaders at rallies and launches of their respective candidates, by and large, the campaign is being executed through branding and messaging, especially as polling day draws closer.
Due to its deep pockets the BDP is very strong in branding, and this is evident from the sea of red that one sees around the country in the form of posters, billboards, branded T-shirts, caps, bandanas and umbrellas.
The UDC’s most potent weapon building up to the elections has been their messaging.
Their message is clear and simple, being 100, 000 jobs in the first 12 months of their reign; P3, 000 living wage; P1, 500 old age pension; P2, 500 allowance for students; and sanitary pads for girls.
This message resonates with many people compared to what the other parties are trying to convey to the voters. The BDP’s manifesto, in particular, is convoluted, and hence more often than not, their candidates have tended to default to their record of the past 53 years.
The other thing that the UDC’s public relations people have been able to do very well is how they packaged their leader, Duma Boko. He is looking more presidential than the other contenders, save for a few gaffes he made in the campaign trail.
His deportment, and the ambience around him, on the campaign trail inspires confidence and, in terms of optics, projects him as a viable challenger for head of state.
However, even with all those attributes, as the challenger, the UDC needed to step into the next gear in order for it to take over the levers of power next week.
All things being considered, it is likely that the BDP will get anything between 29 to 34 seats in the elections to be held next Wednesday. The UDC is likely to get anything from 18 to 22 seats. AP is likely to get anything between 0 to 2.
The BPF too, might get anything from 0 to 2. And BMD will not get a single seat in Parliament. The BPF might help independent candidate, Prince Maele to win Lerala Maunatlala.
On the basis of these estimates, the total maximum number of seats that the opposition, combined, is likely to get is 27, and with that they cannot form a government.