Taking position three (with only 136 votes) in a parliamentary by-election held in a semi-urban constituency when you are the main opposition party seems disastrous but the Botswana National Front’s spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa, does not think the word “disaster” fairly characterises his party’s performance in Palapye.
“That was not a disaster; bear in mind that other parties’ electoral support also fell by a huge margin from the 2004 general election,” Mohwasa says.
He is right but it is also worth noting that his party fared the worst.
In the 2004 general election, the vote share in Palapye was as follows: 3863 for the BDP, 2303 for the BCP and 724 for the BNF. In last week’s bye-election, the BDP got 1942 votes, the BCP 1476 and the BNF 136. Compared to the 2004 general election, the BDP’s share of the vote fell by 49.7 percent, the BCP’s by 35.9 percent and the BNF’s by 81.2 percent.
Generally, Botswana has a voter apathy problem that is more pronounced during by-elections.
Mohwasa’s theory for the low voter turn-out is that greater focus was on the upcoming primaries for the 2009 general election.
The other theory that he advances is that electoral support in Botswana is not evenly distributed. To illustrate that point he says that although his party did poorly in Palapye, it came very close to winning in Kgalagadi North while the Botswana Congress Party, which got position two in Palapye, got only 10 votes in a Serowe ward.
Conversely, deputy BNF president, Olebile Gaborone, was on Btv on Wednesday saying that the party’s poor showing in the bye-election pointed to the fact that they have to do a lot more than they are doing to bring out the vote.
Asked whether a loss that huge would not have the impact of demoralising voters not just in Palapye but nationally, Mohwasa says that people who would base their electoral support for the party on the Palapye outcome would be “completely unreliable” as voters.
“People should vote on the basis of what sort of representation they get from politicians not on the basis of the outcome of the Palapye by-election,” he says
As a BNF source reveals, going into the Palapye by-election, the party’s strategy was not to win but save face.
The party knew it was going to lose but there was no way it could not contest because its absence on the ballot would have been bad PR. Mohwasa’s version is that the party went into the race as a “distant underdog” with the intent of building momentum for next year’s general election.
However, there is also a view within the party that not contesting would have spared the party the humiliation it was subjected to last Saturday.
The man who offered himself as the sacrificial lamb was Joe Malatsi who, at one point, was the party’s administrative secretary. At a date to be announced, the party will hold primary elections for the 2009 general election and of all those being mentioned as possible candidates, a local businessman is touted as the favourite. He would have been fielded in the last bye-election but was not for the reason that he had not voted in the last general election and was thus ineligible to contest.