Unless political parties, including the incumbent Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), aligned their internal processes and procedures to reflect the new dispensation dictated by the increasingly changing world, they risk losing credibility as the true spokespersons for their prospective voters.
This comes in the wake of revelations by a recent audit report issued by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in respect of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s performance over the Botswana 2009 general elections.
It was observed by the Audit that the emergence of 146 independent candidates at both parliamentary and local government level in the past election year, did not bode well for a country that has been hailed for many years as the shining example of democracy.
Mention was made of the importance of the relationship between political parties and candidates, especially with regard to its bearing on the quality of democracy.
“However, the phenomenon of defections and independent candidates, has been attributed to internal squabbles within, the main political parties, most of which ended up in fierce litigation,” the International IDEA observed.
And in the same context, most of the independent candidates had argued that although they had won the primary elections within their parties, the party leadership barred them from nomination for election, replacing them with others who had lost, if not for the leadership’s preference.
Instances of mass dismissals that took place, both in the BDP and in the Botswana National Front (BNF), as well as allegations of stage-managing the internal leadership elections for a semblance of peace, become pertinent cases for reference in this regard.
Besides, the International IDEA has also expressed the concern that most of the parties are elitist. Moreover, parties were also fingered for not observing their own constitutions, and that where they followed them, the documents contained provisions which were undemocratic, such as those that centralized decision making powers in the party’s leadership.
“The fact that most political parties in Botswana do not allow meaningful participation of members in their decision making processes and, in some instances, discriminate against women and the youth was sufficient cause to doubt their case for democracy,” the International election body said.
As if that did not matter, there was no official mechanism in the country to monitor whether the conduct of political parties was constitutional and in line with acceptable democratic norms and values.
On that score, the International IDEA was prompted to recommend that Botswana should explore ways of fostering dialogue about, among other things, internal party functioning and democracy so as to address the large number of people who defect to contest elections as independent candidates.
The auditors said, “The unprecedentedly high number of independent candidates is a sign both of strength and weakness in Botswana’s democracy.”
The positive side of independents lay in that it gives voters a greater choice, which is a plus for political pluralism and diversity, and a weakness because the source is infighting which in the final analysis engenders disillusionment and apathy among citizens.
“In the main, the lack of internal democracy and accountability within political parties is a worrying trend that deserves urgent attention,” concluded the International IDEA’s audit report.