Creating unrealistic electoral expectations by politicians is irresponsible

30 Sep 2019

The best policy when going into any election is to always prepare for the worst, while of course hoping that in the end things will turn out alright.Perhaps far more than ever before, Botswana is going into an election with an opposition that is upbeat, brazenly defiant – even rude and buoyant.

That opposition is up against a governing party that is wounded and hesitant but in the main eager and willing to reinvent itself.But the ruling Botswana Democratic Party will not be giving its turf of fifty-three years without a fight.Either side is going for broke.

The BDP loyalists have had their fealty to their brand fostered by what they perceive - rightly or wrongly - as unwelcome interference, manipulation and infiltration of Botswana’s internal democracy and internal processes by outsiders. In that they have been joined by a majority of the non-aligned.

Many serious commentators say elections will go down to the wire.Others are of the view that whatever happens it will be too close to call.Expectations among the foot soldiers on either side have as a consequence been driven to ridiculously high levels.As it is, for many in the hurly-burly of it all, the atmosphere really has been a dreamscape, removing real life away from their realm of true existence.It is somebody’s responsibility to bring those expectations to realistic levels.

Some may think of it as a strategy. Maybe they are right. But it is a dangerous strategy nonetheless.Political leaders are better advised to always manage expectations of their followers to reasonable levels.They can do that by simply staying honest.“Election outcomes can be brutally fitful. They can also be ruthlessly traumatizing for those involved in them” is a message that politicians should at all time tell their followers.

It is the responsibility of any political leader to put his or her followers on notice that elections can either be won or lost, and that in an election nothing is a given.Otherwise if an outcome could be preordained then there would be no point holding an election.This truth-telling is important not to lower morale of the troops, but rather to bring them down to earth.It is called managing the public expectations.

As in every instance optics are significant.Once again trust in politics and of course in politicians will take a knock.Any unrealistically high expectations could lead to acute disappointment, accusations of cheating, suspicions of rigging and even violence.For a voter too many contradicting statements from varying political leaders on what their real chances are in the elections only serve to muddy the waters.

The challenge for politicians it would deem to is how to energise their followers without giving in to defeatism.Over the last few months everybody’s tone has been getting shriller.The atmosphere is not only ratchetted but also poisoned.The propaganda machine has been getting really nasty and unbearably untidy.Everything goes, so it seems.

This swinging rhetoric is not helpful.It’s a fertile ground for jingoists. And there is no shortage of them in our politics.Some in opposition are behaving like they are already in power.

For them the October 23rd elections is only a formality.One activist to me he saw his side winning as much as forty constituencies.That would be an increase of over hundred percent over their current number of seats.

Taking cue from the leadership, activists are naturally going much further in their hyperbole.Not only do they feel emboldened, they also feel they have a cover rom the leadership.The heightened rhetoric, insults and political posturing provide for a combustible mix.Promises and hopes that are so grandeur cannot be broken or dishonoured lightly.

They will reach a limit and a ceiling. That is when results are declared and then there will have to be a price to paid – usually a grievously high one when people realise that all along they believed in an unattainable dream.Trusting in politics and politicians is always a risky business.Electorate can be girded to hope for the best but go into it expecting the worst.

Current circumstances mean that people could be tempted to question the results they had not been prepared to expect or worse resort to violence to express their displeasure at the results never warned them about.Politicians, political parties and their followers have every right to express their aspirations including the paramount one to attain state power.

But it amounts to a dangerous overreach if these aspirations are passed as granted.Extravagantly raised hopes that end up being shattered can leave a sour taste in the mouth. They also can be a source of enduring anger and bitterness.Vainglory is hardly the best way to go into an election.Going into a democratic election and not leaving any room for defeat is hubris at its worst.It is a recipe for anarchy and chaos.And anybody inciting chaos does not deserve to hold political office.

Political leaders should prepare their voters by adopting honesty and candour that elections can be humiliating with some really painful outcomes and surprises which take time and courage to heal.This much too they must tell their sponsors, some of who are just pouring their stash of money believing what their clients say kneel down before them with a cap in hand.