IRIN election briefing

An estimated half million voters in Botswana go to the polls on 16 October to elect a new National Assembly for the next five years. In this multi-party democracy, the new parliament will then elect the country’s next president who will also serve for a five-year term. In this background report, IRIN examines the key players and the main issues confronting voters.
How many parties are participating?

Nine have registered. One of them is an alliance made up of four parties.

Which are the man parties and who are their leaders?

The ruling party is the mainly conservative Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led by President Festus Mogae. The BDP has been in power since 1966 when the country was granted independence by Britain.

The Botswana National Front (BNF) is led by Dr Kenneth Koma, a veteran opposition politician who has been the sole member of the opposition in parliament for over two decades. However, the BNF’s representation in parliament initially increased to three and later to 13 after the 1994 elections. It is a social democratic party.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) was formed shortly after the last elections in October 1994 by a group of 11 BNF MPs, led by Koma’s former deputy, Michael Dingake. The move enabled Dingake to assume the BNF and Koma’s official opposition status.

The Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM)led by Lepetu Setshwaelo is comprised of four smaller parties - the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) led by Knight Maripe; the Independent Freedom Party (IFP)led by Motsamai Mpho; the Botswana Progressive Union (BPU) led by T.M. Mokgethi; and Setshwaelo’s own Action Party Bosele (APB).

And the smaller parties?

These include The Botswana Labour Party (BLP) led by Lenyeletse Koma; the Botswana Workers Front (BWF)led by a woman, Mothusi Akanyang; the United Socialist Party is led by Nehemiah Modubule.

How many seats are they fighting for?

A total 40 parliamentary seats are to be contested.

And the system?

Charles Mokobi, the deputy secretary of the Independent Electoral Commission told IRIN: “Botswana uses a constituency system whereby a candidate who polls the highest number of votes in a constituency becomes the member of parliament.” The same procedure applies to local government elections which are also held at the same time as the parliamentary polls.

But is it a presidential system?

Not in the classic sense, said Mokobi: “The parties nominate their presidential candidate long before the election and lodge the names with the Chief Justice who will validate or reject the candidacy after satisfying himself that the constitutional and procedural provisions have been fulfilled.”

Who forms the government?

The party with the highest number of parliamentary seats. Its leader then assumes the presidency. According to Mokobi, three parties have nominated their presidential candidates, namely Mogae of the BDP, Koma of the BNF and Dingake of the BCP.

What are the major issues facing a new government?

Poverty reduction, according to analysts. The lack of a national poverty strategy and action plan, along with relatively outdated statistics which have placed poverty as high as 47 percent, have not allowed for an effective translation of government’s commitment into concrete programmes, they said.

What about issues like unemployment or HIV/AIDS?

In a country of roughly 1.5 million people, unemployment is estimated at 21 percent and the HIV/AIDS infection rate is estimated to have risen from 4.35 percent in 1992 to over 17 percent in 1998. According to an HIV/AIDS expert: “Even more alarming is the fact that 85 percent of those infected by HIV are in the age group of 15 to 49, which is attributed as the primary cause of the decrease in life expectancy from 67 years to 47 years.”