Botswana: The October 1989 General Election

Extracted from: "Botswana" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 45-46.

This election followed the 1987 referendum on electoral reform, which was boycotted by the BNF [Botswana National Front] because the reforms did not provide for an independent electoral commission. The BNF had been plagued by internal dissension and it experienced a setback in 1985 when Bathoen resigned as leader to head the Customary Court of Appeal. Moreover, shortly before the 1989 election he began to criticise Koma for his leftist policies and resigned from the party.

Bathoen then helped to found the Botswana Freedom party (BFP), which stood for "'nationalism' and 'free market' policies. By now the BDP [Botswana Democratic Party] (since 1984) and the BNF had begun to hold party elections (primaries) to give party members a say in the selection of election candidates.

All the smaller parties had now disappeared from the National Assembly. A three-cornered contest in the North-East constituency between the BPP [Botswana Peoples Party], BNF and BDP, resulted in the seat being taken by the BDP and the BPP losing its only seat in the legislature (see 1989 National Assembly results for more details). The BNF lost its two Ngwaketse seats to the BDP as a result of a split vote between the BNF and Chief Bathoen's BFP. Having gained 27% of the total vote -a record for an opposition party - but only three seats the BNF showed it had reason to complain about the unfairness of the delimitation system.

The BNF fared well in the local government elections by winning 12 of 13 municipal wards in Gaborone, six of the ten wards in Mochudi and five of the ten in Kanye. It was evident that the BNF had become the leading opposition force, with growing support in both urban and rural areas. Unlike other opposition parties, it was the first not to be confined to particular ethnic or regional strongholds.

As in 1984, the High Court upheld BNF charges of irregularities at the election in one of the constituencies -in this case, Mochudi, where the BNF had lost against the BDP by only 29 votes. However, this time the BDP retained the seat in the subsequent by-election, held in June 1990.

Contesting parties: In addition to the five parties that contested the 1984 elections [Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Botswana People's Party (BPP), Botswana Independence Party (BIP), Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana Progressive Union (RPU)], the newly founded Botswana Freedom party (BFP) and the Botswana Labour party (BLP) also participated.
Leaders: Masire (BDP), Koma (BNF), Maripe (BPP), Motsamai Mpho (BIP), Daniel Kwele (BPU), Lech Tlhomelang (BFP), Lenyeletse Koma (BLP).
Constituencies contested: BDP 34, BNF 33, BPP 11, BIP 9, BPU 1, BFP 2, BLP 1
Uncontested constituencies: None