Botswana Heads for Tough Elections

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President of Botswana Ian Khama

Close to a million Batswana will go to the polls on 24 October in parliamentary and local government elections that are expected to be closely contested.

With a day to go before the elections, which many say will present a stern test for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the country’s three main political parties have intensified campaigns as they seek to win over voters.

The BDP led by President Seretse Ian Khama is confident that it will once again emerge victorious. The BDP has never lost an election since independence in 1966.

“Still the only party,” and “Still the biggest party in Botswana” are some of the catchy phrases being used by the BDP on its website.

Khama is also encouraged by the support his party has received in the last few years, hence his decision to stand for re-election.

“Fellow comrades and compatriots, once again I come before you to ask in kind humility for your mandate to lead this beloved nation for a second term,” Khama said in a foreword to the BDP manifesto.

“Your confidence in the Botswana Democratic Party has not wavered in the last five decades and for that we are all grateful to you.”

A number of opposition parties have formed an alliance under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) led by Duma Boko.

The UDC is an alliance between Botswana Movement for Democratic Change, Botswana National Front and the Botswana People’s Party, which has been hailed as a national project and has the blessings of civil society groups and trade unions.

According to analysts, this is by far the most powerful coalition to take part in the country’s elections since independence.

Its election manifesto is premised on five pillars. These are the need to create an educated society, “a clean and effective government”, a robust economy, social inclusion and peace and security.

The third party contesting the parliamentary poll is the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) led by Dumelang Saleshando, which has campaigned for an improvement in the country’s economic performance.

It has sought to capitalise on the challenges faced by the Botswana government during the past five years, particularly shortages of water and power supply, failed state projects due to alleged corruption such as the Palapye Glass Project and rising unemployment among the youth.

The Palapye Glass Project, which was scheduled for completion in November 2012, is still to be completed following allegations that some top officials syphoned funds invested into the project by the government.

The BCP has also campaigned for improvements in the education sector, which “is in total disarray as demonstrated by the results of public schools in the past five years,” according to the party’s manifesto.

In the last elections held in 2009, seven parties and 15 independent candidates took part in the elections, which saw the BDP win 45 of the 57 elected seats.

Seven political parties and 15 independent candidates contested the elections five years ago.

The Botswana Parliament has 63 seats, of which 57 are filled through direct votes.

There are four seats reserved for the majority party in Parliament, while the President and Attorney General are ex-officio members.

Information from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) shows that the BDP has fielded candidates in all 57 parliamentary constituencies, followed by the BCP with 54 candidates and the UDC with 52.

There are a total of 29 independent candidates contesting the parliamentary elections.

A total of 824,073 voters have registered to vote against an estimated population of 1.4 million eligible voters.

Of these, 389,870 (almost 50 percent) are youth, meaning that young people will have a major say in who will emerge as the eventual winner.

Botswana uses a single constituency electoral system of First Past the Post for the election of Members of Parliament.

Elected MPs then act as an electoral college to choose the President.

The run-up to the elections was marred by the death of an opposition leader when Gomolemo Motswaledi of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) died in a car accident in August in what the opposition claimed was suspicious circumstances.

However, the police have ruled out foul play, saying the “investigations reveal that Motswaledi’s death was the result of a road accident un-induced by any foul play.”

The elections will be monitored by observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

SADC has deployed an 86-member observer mission, split into 24 teams covering all the 10 districts of Botswana.

The observers were drawn from Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM), together with other regional and international observer missions, will monitor the electoral process in three phases, namely, the pre-election, the election and the post-elections.

SEOM is expected to produce a report on the conduct of the polls. This is in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which encourage Member States to promote common political values and systems.

Former Malawian president Joyce Banda is leading a 35-member AU observer mission comprising officials from the Pan-African Parliament, African ambassadors to the AU, election management bodies and civil society organisations from various African countries.

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