Botswana: Party system and one party dominance

Extracted from: Victor Shale 2009 "Chapter 3: Botswana" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 67-70.

Botswana's multiparty system is characterised as a dominant one-party system as the ruling BDP has been returned to power at every election since the 1965 pre-independence elections. The opposition parties include the BNF, BCP, BAM, NDF, BPP, MELS, the United Socialist Party (USP), Botswana Labour Party (BLP), Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Kgarametsa One Time. Political parties in Botswana are required by law, the Republic of Botswana Societies' Act, Chapter 18, section 1, to register as a legal entity. Parties need to have a constitution in order to be registered by the Registrar of Societies. The registration period takes about one week to complete, providing the party meets the requirements (Seeletso 2002; Somolekae 2002. See Party registration for details). Like all organisations registered in the country, they are subject to the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs governing the holding of rallies and other forms of gathering.

The BDP seems to have been able to revive itself over time, while the opposition has been marred with infighting and fragmentation. The opposition parties are weak, fragmented and ineffective. Primarily this is because of the electoral system, which perpetuates one-party dominance. The opposition parties are many, small and prone to splitting. Most of the splits are from the BNF, which was once seen as the major opposition party. For example, the BCP and NDF are break-away parties from the BNF. The opposition continues to suffer from the worst forms of factionalism and disintegration. More importantly, disunity among opposition parties continues, making it difficult for them to form effective electoral alliances. For example, the Pact Alliance was formed by only three opposition parties - the BAM, BNF and BPP - with six other opposition parties outside the alliance. This, in effect, continued the scattering of the opposition vote (which is particularly relevant, given the electoral system) and helped bring victory to the BDP. Opposition parties, including the BCP, refused to join the Pact in the belief that they could single-handedly challenge and oust the BDP from power in the 2004 elections. The NDF found it uncomfortable to work with the BNF within the Pact. Smaller parties like the MELS, BLP and SDP do not appreciate possible advantages that electoral alliances hold and have also failed to secure a single seat since entering the electoral arena.

One of the main challenges facing the effectiveness of parties is that there is no public funding for parties in Botswana (see Code of conduct and party finance for details). Absence of party funding, coupled with incumbency, advantage the ruling party as it has access to many sources of funding, while opposition parties are under-resourced and depend on variable sources of funds. As a result, the opposition has been hampered in mounting effective electoral campaigns. Their lack of resources undermines their organisational and campaigning capability. This has also contributed to a steady decline in voter support for the opposition. This state of affairs has given rise to calls through the All Party Conference and direct appeals to the president by the opposition parties to introduce public funding and thereby contribute to fair competition. However, the BDP has so far resisted these requests, arguably because of its adequate resources and the fact that as the incumbent, the governing party benefits most from the current arrangement, while its opponents are under-resourced.

Parties are not obliged to disclose their sources of funding and they are free to receive money from private donors (see Code of conduct and party finance for details). Due to this, it is virtually impossible to monitor the source of funds any party receives ahead of elections. In the run-up to the 1999 election, the BDP was accused of having received about P2 million (USD 436,020) from unknown sources. The ruling party would not disclose its sources of funding and argued that other parties had also received funds from undisclosed sources.

References

SEELETSO, T 2009, telephone interview with IEC Botswana Secretary, Tiro Seeletso.

SOMOLEKAE, G 2002 "Botswana" IN Lodge, T, Kadima, D & Pottie, D (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa, Johannesburg, EISA.