Saturday, October 16, 2021

Inside how government hijacked Botswana’s voice

The union of Botswana’s opposition political parties under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has resulted in a party voted for by the majority being in opposition while the party voted for by the minority is in government.

The UDC which is made up of the Botswana National Front (BNF) Botswana Movement for Democracy (UDC) the Botswana Congress Party (BPP) and the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) has 53.55% of the popular vote, but it is in opposition while the BDP has a minority 46,45% is in government.

In what comes across as an affront to “government of the people by the people for the people”, While the UDC has 53,55 % of the popular vote, Botswana’s majority have a very faint voice with a less than 30 % of representation in parliament, the law making body of the country. A total of 20 UDC members represent  53% of the popular vote in parliament while a whooping 37 MPs (plus an  additional six specially elected MPs) represent a paltry 46,45% of the popular vote.

This is due to the voting system used in Botswana is more commonly referred to as First-Past-The-Post (FPTP). Under the FPTP, when an election occurs, in each constituency (riding), the candidate who wins the highest number of votes within that constituency wins that seat. They don’t have to win over 50% of the vote in their riding, they only have to win at least one more vote than the candidate in second place.

The big problem with FPTP is that it is designed for a two-party system. If there are only two parties competing (or two very strong parties and maybe a couple of very weak fringe parties), then FPTP works reasonably well. If there are only two parties to choose from, then one of them will receive over 50% of the vote.

However, when a country has a multi-party system, meaning that there are more than two strong parties competing for people’s votes (and many smaller parties), then FPTP starts to break down and can produce very distorted results. The greater the number of parties, the more the vote is potentially split between them. This leads to candidates winning seats with smaller and smaller percentages of the vote.

In the Botswana 2014 general election, for example, 37 of the total 57 seats, that is about 70% of the seats in parliament, were won by a President Lt gen Ian Khama who received less than 50% of the vote in his or her riding. In some ridings, the vote was split very closely between three or more different candidates. This means that a majority of MPs were not elected with a majority of the vote in their own constituency. More voters in their ridings voted for the different parties under UDC than for the UDC. All things being equal, had the BCP been part of the UDC in the 2014 election, the BDP would have been voted out of power.

This distortion at the constituency level plays out at the national and presidential levels. Because the overall vote is split between three or more parties, it becomes increasingly difficult for a single party to gain over 50% of the total vote cast. But, just as a candidate doesn’t need over 50% of the vote to win a seat, political parties do not need to win over 50% of the total vote to win an overall majority of the seats.

FPTP has also resulted in even greater distortions. For example, there have been instances of a party finishing second in terms of the overall vote, but still winning more seats, sometimes even a majority of the seats, than the party that did receive the most votes overall. In the 1979 federal election, the Progressive Conservatives of Canada won 136 seats while the Liberals won 114, even though the Liberals received 40% of the vote compared to the PCs’ 35%. In the 1998 general election in the province of Quebec, the Party Qu├®b├®cois won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly (77 of the 124 seats) but had actually finished second to the Quebec Liberal Party in terms of votes. The Quebec Liberal Party received 1,771,858 votes (43.55%), and the PQ 1,744,240 (42.87%) votes, yet the PQ won 77 seats and the Liberals only 47. In New Brunswick in 2006, the Liberals won 29 seats to the Progressive Conservatives’ 26, but the PCs had received marginally more votes, 177,744 to the Liberals 176,410. In the 1996 provincial election in British Columbia and in the 1986 election in Saskatchewan, parties won a majority of seats even though they placed second in the overall province-wide total of the votes.

FPTP can also exacerbate regional differences between the parties and allow one party to form a national government even though support for that party is largely concentrated in one part of the country. Adopting a more proportional voting system would address these issues, and would also make it almost impossible for a single party majority government to occur unless it managed to win a majority of the overall popular vote.

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