Once again the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) emerges victorious at the 11th General elections of the world’s largest diamond producing country, Botswana. With an outstanding track record of peaceful, free, and fair elections, Botswana has truly marked herself as the epitome of Africa’s shining democracy. But is democracy only rooted in a ‘free and fair’ election, or there something benignly masked by these sheer principles?
On the whole, Botswana’s political arena is staged as a multi-party state, with the dominating party, the BDP having been in power since independence in 1966. Currently, their main opposition is a coalition party, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), followed by the former biggest rivalry to the BDP, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). With 57 constituencies, the winning party needed to secure at least 29 seats. Under His Excellency Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the BDP led with 37, followed by Duma Boko’s UDC with 17 and trailing at the back is Mr Dumelang Saleshando’s BCP with a mere 3 seats. The BDP’s results fell from a 79% majority back in 2009 to a little over 65% this year. This may be a ‘fair’ victory to the MPs, but does it portray fairness to the rest of the nation?
Firstly, I would argue that it’s not ‘fair’ in the context of utilizing an already unfair ‘First Past the Post (FPTP)’ electoral system. With the current voting system, although it has been favoured for being ‘simple and easy to understand’, it continues to yield a huge wastage of votes. Just by popular vote, the BCP showed incredible strength in comparison to the UDC, yet with very few seats to show for it. What’s even more problematic is the incessant growth of ‘damaged’ ballots. For instance, one constituency – TAKATOKWANE DITSHEGWANE/MABOANE – recorded a UDC lead with 5 votes, yet having had 32 spoilt votes, who knows how it would have turned out if there had not been any spoilt votes? Additionally, the Jackalas constituency recorded more spoilt votes than the total number of successful ones. This is outright appalling and needs to stop. What is attributed to the coalition party, the UDC, is how FPTP also marginalises small parties, purely because of the number of parties that exist and the distribution of votes amongst them. Zwenshambe ward, Tate West, became victim to this misfortune. This was a Botswana People’s Party (BPP) safe seat, however when the BPP joined UDC, its supporters experienced a shaken fate on their constituency, thus, for this year the seat went to BDP. Again this shows how FPTP allows people to compromise; surely such a vote cannot be deemed ‘free’ nor ‘fair’.
It is time to embrace a more proportional electoral system, one that will keep the elected on their toes, foster better constituency links and accountability, whilst also limiting the amount of votes being wasted or spoiled. A preferential system of Alternative Vote (AV) would allow this. ‘First Past The Post’ has lost its place in Botswana’s democratic nation, and along with its abolishment, it is imperative to introduce Direct Presidential elections. Such elections would be based on representation of the will of the people, instead of bureaucratic party politics.
Secondly, Botswana’s politics of gender still needs thorough revision. The last time Botswana witnessed a decent level of women’s representation in the National Assembly was back in 1999, with a mere 18.18%. Compare this to now, where only 4 women have been voted into Parliament. Women are largely underrepresented in politics and if we really want to pride ourselves on being the pillar of democracy, then much more needs to be done. Furthermore, there remains a conservative culture within mainstream politics which stigmatises the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is still illegal in Botswana and the LeGaBiBo Organisation has long fought a futile battle of recognition as a proper society in Botswana on the grounds of their cause not being acknowledged in the constitution. This paints a bad light on candidates who may want to open up about their sexuality, and until liberal progressive thinking is adopted in mainstream politics, gender-related issues will still continue to be shoved under the rug. Again this is not akin to a ‘fair’ and just social system.
Lastly, the most crucial observation in this year’s general elections is the level of youth engagement. There has been an overwhelming sense of patriotism and political participation among the youth, a common sense of pride, despite different party affiliations. The use of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and BBM has skyrocketed in numbers, attesting to a passionate and politically enlightened youth. Despite this, the hype of the elections may have been experiences by others a little too late. A worrying number of young people did not register; something that they may have regretted amid the sensationalised election coverage from their peers. More needs to be done; Gaborone Central with the UDC Youth paved the way for many young voters. Botswana is a country full of vigour and if we take the power of voting for granted, dismay and discontent shall prevail.
Ultimately, I would like to firstly congratulate the incumbent party, the BDP for surmounting their way to the top again and I pass my commiserations to the five cabinet ministers that lost their seats. It truly was a long and tough race. Secondly, I pass my gratitude to the IEC and the amazing patriots that dedicated their hours to facilitating a smooth and fair election and of course the media for their extensive coverage of the elections. And lastly, to all those that voted and campaigned with exuberant energy, along with the candidates that gave us choice, and made the race to the top among the hardest in history, I thank you. Let these general elections send a very strong message to government, that much needs to be done and change is possible. Let peace reign in my country, PULA!
Get in touch with Kaene and see more of his writing at: botswanainsight.wordpress.com and mrkaneblog.wordpress.com