by Hussein Solomon
On 24th October 2014, more than 680,000 Batswana went to the polls out of 824,000 registered voters and in a population of two million. Voters had a choice between 192 candidates for 57 seats in parliament. The result was an eleventh straight victory for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of President Ian Khama, which has been governing the southern African country since independence in 1966. The BDP captured 37 of the 57. In other words, the BDP secured 64.9 percent representation in parliament.
|President Ian Khama (Photo: GovernmentZA)|
Whilst at face value, this might appear as the trouncing of the political opposition, in reality the BDP’s vote share fell for the first time in its history below half - to 46.7 percent. What accounts for the almost twenty percent difference between the popular vote and the BDP’s representation in parliament is the first-past-the-post electoral system which institutionalizes a winner-takes-all system. To put it differently, 25 of the 57 MPs elected secured less than 50 percent of the vote. As a result there has been a call for this first-past-the-post system to be discarded and replaced with a proportional representation electoral system which is intrinsically more democratic. Despite these calls to ditch the existing system, the major stumbling block is the intransigence of the BDP to change the current system – a system which they draw benefit from.
Despite the inequities of the current system, the political opposition in the form of the Botswana National Front, the Botswana People’s Party and the Botswana Movement for Democratic Change, have made tremendous political progress. These parties contested the elections under the banner of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and managed to secure 30 percent of the popular vote, giving them 17 seats in parliament. This is the highest number of seats any opposition political party managed to secure since independence. If the UDC could forge an alliance with the opposition Botswana Congress Party which secured 19.6 percent of the popular vote in the next election then the political ascendancy of the BDP will end. One of the fault lines which has been highlighted in the October 2014 elections is the rural-urban divide with the ruling BDP maintaining its support in the rural parts of the country whilst the opposition has been making significant inroads amongst the educated middle classes in the urban areas.
As President Khama’s second and final term will end in March 2018, 18 months before elections are due in 2019, the next elections in the country will be most interesting.