Botswana: The October 1999 General Election

Extracted from: "Botswana" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 47-48.

Unfortunately for the democratic process in Botswana, BNF [Botswana National Front], the major opposition in Parliament split into two parties in mid-1998, a year before the scheduled elections. The rifts began to show at the BNF's congress in July 1997 and widened during the 1998 congress when the ageing party leader, Kenneth Koma, was suspended and replaced by an interim president. He took the matter to court where the judge ruled that the central committee did not have the authority to suspend the party leader. As a result Koma remained at the helm and proceeded to purge the party leadership of his opponents through the establishment of a 'caretaker committee'. Within days those who had been excluded from this committee formed a new party, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).

Even though the BNF had a long history of internal strife, this conflict was distinctively different. Previous dissident factions had been small minorities, whereas this time the dissidents constituted a majority of the party leadership. Eleven of the party's 13 MPs and the majority of the party's local councillors joined the newly created party, the BCP. Koma was forced out as opposition leader in the National Assembly and replaced by the BCP's leader, Michael Dingake. While the BCP looked stronger than the BNF in terms of office holder support, it needed to build new local organisations throughout the country.

In late 1998, the BNF entered into serious talks with the leadership of the United Action Party, a party which had been founded by former senior civil servants in 1997. Eventually, in January 1999, seven opposition parties joined forces and agreed to create an electoral alliance, the Botswana Alliance Movement,(BAM). Missing from the group was the BCP, which meant that the opposition would remain divided against the BDP [Botswana Democratic Party]. The situation had worsened by the end of April 1999, when BAM was functioning without the BNF, the other alliance members being unwilling to go along with the BNF's demand that it should unilaterally determine the constituencies in which its candidates would stand for BAM. Thus, the only electoral alliance in the 1999 election - BAM - consisted of six minor opposition parties.

The 1999 elections were the first to be conducted by the newly formed Independent Electoral Commission [IEC]. The IEC held its first meeting in June 1998, just 17 months before the 1999 election. The commission had to work quickly to establish itself and to administer the elections, a task complicated by the fact that the IEC did not even meet between December 1998 and mid-April 1999. Nevertheless, the IEC was able to manage a credible electoral process. Out of an estimated 800 000 to 900 000 eligible voters, a total of 459 662 voters were registered.

In 1999, of the five contesting parties, the BCP, BDP and BNF produced election manifestos. The 16 October 1999 parliamentary election was won overwhelmingly by the BDP (see 1999 National Assembly results for more details). The BDP obtained 192 598 of the 354 463 votes cast, which represented 54.34% of the total votes. This entitled the ruling BDP to 33 of the 40 contested seats (83% of the seats). Once again the electoral system dramatically distorted parliamentary representation. Festus Mogae was re-elected president.

The BNF came second with 87 457 votes (24% popular support), which corresponded to 6 parliamentary seats (only 15% of the total), and the BCP received 40 096 votes (11% popular support) which translated into one parliamentary seat. The BAM, the MELS [Marx-Engels-Stalin Movement] and the independent candidates failed to win any seats.

In addition to the 33 elected seats, the BDP obtained four additional seats. The president of the republic is constitutionally entitled to nominate four specially elected MPs' to be endorsed by parliament. While in 1994 only two women candidates were elected through the ballot box system and two more were appointed by the president, six BDP women candidates were elected in 1999. President Mogae appointed two more women as 'specially elected MPs' thereby increasing the number of women MPs from four in 1994 (9%) to eight in 1999 (18%; see Representation of women 1994 and 1999).