Sunday, January 17, 2021

High stakes in Tonota North by-elections

The opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) will go for the Tonota North bye-elections united behind Habaudi Hobona of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), while the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is grappling with its biggest split ever.

The constituency fell vacant following the death of former minister Baledzi Gaolathe.

BNF announced at its national congress in Mochudi yesterday that they will not contest the bye-elections and will instead support the BCP candidate. The two parties seem to be in a greater state of harmony than at any stage since the BCP broke away from the BNF.

The BMD will also not contest the bye elections and is also understood to be supporting the BCP candidate.

BMD’s Ndaba Gaolathe was approached by some opposition big shorts to contest the seat that was left vacant by his father. He, however, declined the proposal and instead indicated that it would be better to back the BCP candidate.

In the 2009 General Election, the BDP won the constituency by 5,811 votes against BCP’s 3,067 while 3 802 registered voters abstained. It is understood that BDP got most of its voters from the Barata-Phathi faction. Some members of the Barata-Phathi faction have since broken away from the BDP to form the BMD.

A visiting Canadian associate professor who is conducting research on Botswana told The Telegraph two weeks ago that, “my analysis of the 2009 elections suggests that the factional conflict actually contributed to the BDP’s electoral success. It seems that at least some voters who might have otherwise voted for the opposition or abstained chose to support candidates associated with the Barata-Phathi faction instead.

Also, factional competition for seat share apparently helped mobilize the BDP base.
Regardless of the number of elected officials who decide to switch from the BDP to the BMD, the BDP is currently not very attractive to the sorts of voters who supported Barata-Phathi candidates in 2009.

“The stakes have never been higher in the history of Botswana bye elections. Tonota North, which is a traditional BDP stronghold, is expected to indicate how badly the recent split has affected the BDP and the extent to which the current mood of opposition cooperation can deliver crosses on ballot papers.

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