Monday, June 5, 2023

Botswana 2014 elections: Democratic crisis or democracy development?

The 2014 elections have produced interesting results. In particular, the dominance of the ruling party has been brought under control, and the once moribund opposition has managed to regain some pride. This instalment reflects on the recent past general elections and their implications on democratic development for our republic.

As captured in many media outlets, the elections were historic in many ways. It was a highly competitive electoral race in every description of the word. But chiefly, the dominance of the ruling party was severely tested in a big way by opposition parties in a long period of time.

The BDP, having started campaign way back in 2009 expected a big win. That expectation, however, proved otherwise with the ruling party winning unconvincingly. Yes, the BDP is by all accounts a dominant party that enjoys to the fullest the fruits of incumbency. It has come to dominate the country’s political landscape so much that many in the party, including those in leadership positions conveniently cannot draw a line between the party and government. With this confusion, the BDP has abused state resources to beef up its campaign all these years including the past recent ones. In this year’s elections campaign, however, the ruling party achieved a new low when it came to abuse of state resources, with military aircrafts, among others used to ferry party officials to their rallies. In terms of resources the BDP was no match for anyone.

On the other side of the isle, opposition parties had to contend a fight against the ruling party from meagre resource base. With all the odds against them, the opposition adopted unconventional campaign strategies that proved a favourite with the masses. They managed to create much needed hype and thereby attracted to their side mainly younger voters. In particular, the UDC offered freshness. Their massage, to use contemporary language, was on point. Indeed, change turned to be what many Batswana were yearning for, especially in this year’s elections. To their disadvantage, the BCP on the other hand, opted out of the opposition unity; instead, choosing to go it alone. But overall, the opposition parties appeared prepared for the electoral contest. Indeed, they offered themselves, for the first time in many years, as truly an alternative to the ruling party, as far as the state power was concerned.

By the end of the electoral competition the popular vote for the ruling party was around 47%. This means effectively that for the first time since independence elections of 1965, Batswana ushered in an unpopular government to take charge of its affairs. The party of Seretse, sadly, have been reduced to an ordinary one, interestingly, under the watch of the first son of the much revered Seretse. The implications of this reality are wide and varied, especially for democratic development and governance of our country. For starters, Botswana is surely on its way towards democratic consolidation having ditched the ugly dominant party system. Undeniably, the country appears to be on its way towards satisfying a key measure of democracy: the turnover test. Effectively we are headed in the right direction that should culminate with a strengthened democratic practise. But that can be facilitated through much needed reform of our electoral system. The dreaded first-past-the-post-system should be a thing of the past if electoral competition was to entrench in our political landscape.

The BDP win is also riddled with serious governance challenges. The drama that unfolded immediately after inauguration of HE Khama as head of state offers a clearer picture of what we should expect from a wounded BDP. It would seem the party is now in a state of shock. This is certainly not the all powerful and confident BDP of the past. The indefinite suspension of parliament last week, for example, brought a sense of disbelief to many across the country. It was a sign of a party that has lost trust in itself. And the motivation for such development, it turns out later in the afternoon, was a legal fight brought before the courts by AGs seeking a repeal of an amended parliamentary standing order that would allow MPs to vote in secrecy.

To many Batswana, they have come to know voting as a secret endeavour. And when the AGs challenged a process adopted by parliament to facilitate efficient conduct of its affairs, surprise was written all over the faces of an unsuspecting public. A governance principle – conflict of interest – was directly under threat. But given the unfamiliar and somewhat predicament position the ruling party now finds itself we as a nation should brace ourselves for the worst. Maintenance of good governance standards, it would appear is likely to play secondary to the survival interests of the BDP.

The electoral setback for the BDP also means that the party will likely be at war with itself in terms of finding capable hands to lead and guide as far as governance of the republic is concerned. Who would have imagined party stalwarts like Daniel Kwelagobe losing? Not only have the party lost the old guard, it has ushered into parliament relatively new faces. The appointment of the new cabinet, for instance, created much interest to many Batswana. They wanted to know their principals in different ministries. When cabinet was announced many of us could not put faces to the names publicised. The latest cabinet has one defining characteristic: inexperience. Not only does it come across as a group of freshmen, they appeared more of a compromise than substantive holders of such positions. Perhaps a temporary stop measure to delay defections from the ruling party?

We will never know what the leadership of the republic wanted to achieve with his cabinet appointments. One thing we are sure about is that HE has very thin base to work with, in terms of human capital. Undoubtedly, the opposition boasted of more talent than on the other side of the isle. And this should also provide much needed boost for the opposition as Batswana come to appreciate their human resource base. Indeed, the opposition presents itself better organised than the ruling party. The new parliament promises to be an interesting one!


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