While all other political candidates for the 2009 general election have done little more than high-five the Internet, Gomolemo Motswaledi, the Botswana Democratic Party candidate in Gaborone Central, has given it a full embrace.
On July 10, Motswaledi became the first candidate to launch a website and two months later, Tsholofelo Mogodu, a member of his campaign team, says that the Internet has helped increase publicity and momentum for their campaign.
“It has given us access to people outside the country, to people who are not in the habit of attending political rallies and to University of Botswana students who are the single largest voter constituency in Gaborone Central,” says Mogodu who is secretary of the Gaborone Central constituency committee.
Using a set of core web tools, Motswaledi’s site provides biographical information about the candidate, invites visitors to post political commentary, solicits donations, articulates the campaign’s platform, publishes a schedule of upcoming events and recruits volunteers to get the message out to the public.
E-campaigning offers a lot of advantages and to a large extent, has been the reason the campaign of United States presidential hopeful, Barack Obama has been able to galvanise as much support from the online community as it has.
However, IT-savvy politicians in Botswana cannot replicate Obama’s success due to limited access here at home. Although there are no official numbers of Internet users in Botswana, a significant numbers of voters are able to access the Internet at work, school or Internet caf├®s.
Courtesy of e-campaigning, Motswaledi is reaping rich rewards possible for his campaign. Getting the “former president of the republic of Botswana” and one of the women ministers who served in his administration to speak at a political rally would not be easy because they are retired from active politics. However, the ‘endorsements’ page has enabled both Sir Ketumile Masire and Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe to post some positive thoughts about Motswaledi. A political rally offers no more than fours hours to mainly preach to the converted but a website gives a candidate 24-hour access to the online community. The Internet also allows the political candidate to circumvent the processing of his message through the press by publishing directly to the public.
Although he does not know how many voters in the constituency have Internet access, Mogodu says that in the technological age, the Internet is a powerful medium they have to take full advantage of. Powerful as that medium is, Mogodu says that there is still need to undertake traditional methods of securing votes – like house-to-house campaign. If results of the website’s latest poll can be relied on, 24 percent of respondents favour house-to-house campaigning over other electoral outreach strategies like website banners and TV ads.
In as far as electoral spending goes, the timing of the launch will work in favour of Motswaledi’s campaign. In terms of electoral law, the money that candidates spend on their campaigns after a writ of elections has been issued is not supposed to exceed P50 000. That means that the money that Motswaledi’s campaign used to launch the website does not count with regard to the mandatory, post-writ spending ceiling. However, that limit will be imposed on candidates who launch their websites after the writ has been issued.