Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been in power for the last 50 years hence the question: Is this good for our democracy? I must from the outset indicate that the electorate has continually and consistently vested the privilege of governing Botswana on the BDP through the ballot. Perfectly ok! This article therefore doesn’t question the legitimacy of dominance for there is no basis to do so. It explores and questions whether such dominance is good for our democracy even if any other party was in the position of the BDP. It should be mentioned that every political party would like to dominate the political landscape for as long as it takes. What concerns is what a dominant party, though not at fault to be dominant, does with this domination? G. Sartori defines one-party-dominant systems as ‘those party systems in which the same party wins an absolute majority in at least three consecutive elections’.
A seminar was held in Cape Town in 2005 focussing on ‘Challenges to Democracy by One-Party Dominance: A Comparative Assessment’. Nicola de Jagger, a lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Pretoria, argued in her paper at that seminar titled ‘The ANC government, co-optive power and the perpetuation of party dominance’ that the consequences of single party dominance are amongst others:
“Erosion of the distinction between the State and the ruling party with the continuation of the same party in power, a process of politicisation occurs as State officials and institutions adopt the ideological and political priorities of the ruling party. Due to the lack of fear of the ballot, the dominant party may begin to display complacency and arrogance, and possibly corruption. This system is also often characterised by weak and ineffective opposition, especially where the dominant party feels no obligation to take their criticism into account”.
Also at this seminar, Professor Lawrence Schlemmer who was contracted by the BDP in 1997 to re-engineer it for the 1999 general election, presented a paper ‘Deformations of political culture by one-party dominance’ where he says ‘….Using the Afrobarometer database, Michael Bratton looked at ten cases in Africa and came to the conclusion that in those societies where governments were replaced after elections there was an invigoration of the electorate – a renewed interest in and commitment to democracy’. Schlemmer continued to observe that ‘…. But the greatest and most dangerous effects of one-party dominance can occur where party - political criteria invade the core principles and moral codes in a society; where party ideology begins to usurp what should be an independent core of social values beyond politics…’.
Putting the above observations into our context, the BDP qualifies as a candidate to be tested after having been dominant in our political arena for over fifty years. In fact, no test is required because the answers are in the open for even the blind to see. Nevertheless, let us briefly put issues into perspective.
There is fear of the ballot as demonstrated by the unprecedented collapse of the popular vote (47%) where you would expect the dominant party to go back to basics. The collapse in popular vote is a telling message from within the dominant party which could suggest that the party is complacent and arrogant more so to its own members. But lo and behold the party, against all expectations, displays complacency and arrogance of the highest order. Statements like launch your own TV station, BCL employees have told me that I delayed to close the mine and that government closed the mine arbitrarily to mention but a few, are some forms of complacency and arrogance.
The dominant party has no obligation to take opposition criticism or suggestions seriously as demonstrated by the recent deliberate collapse of parliament to quorate when an important motion by Hon Mmolotsi which sought the house to debate and agree that parent’s plots be passed onto their children once allocated in the event they (parents) have died. It is reported that some BDP members supported it. The only problem with it, I assume, is that the BDP felt it would give the opposition some political mileage detrimental to it in the eyes of the electorate. While parliament was fully quorate during the NDP XI debate on the P22 billion Ministry of Justice budget, the Deputy Speaker deliberately and under flimsy reasons, postponed the process because opposition numbers exceeded those of the BDP. The budget wouldn’t have passed! The party became more important than Botswana. How sad.
The question whether single-party dominance is good for our democracy has been answered beyond any shadow of a doubt by Nicola and Lawrence through their papers. Now that a dominant party system produces challenges as exposed by the two and that such party in this case, the BDP, is neither willing to deal with them nor can be expected to relinquish its dominance, what next? The answer is straightforward. Because the BDP is the dominant party and by virtue of this status has become complacent and arrogant; it has eroded the distinction between the State and itself with accompanying plethora of consequences, it has to be removed from governing Botswana the same way it was put in power. Any party that replaces it but fails to correct that, which it has created, should be removed as well.
One may ask: what has contributed to the BDP to be a dominant party? The answer is ably provided in the 2006 paper titled ‘Dominant Parties: The Case of The Botswana Democratic Party’ where newspapers reported in 1999 the external financial support of around P2.4m from an unknown donor for the purchase of campaign vehicles; the benefit of extensive press coverage from state media; the party partly benefitting from the First Past The Post Westminster type of electoral system.
Pat Toomey, who served in the US House of Representatives from 1999-2005, argued in 2009 that ‘It is natural for political parties to seek power. As a Republican, I root for Republicans to win as many elections as possible. But I hope I am objective enough to recognise that our country is often ill-served by the concentration of political power in one party’s hands, regardless of which party holds it’. He continued that ‘….Some party leaders got carried away and pursued policies that grew their own power at the expense of American taxpayers. Their unlimited power led to runaway spending, an explosion in obscenely wasteful and parochial earmarks, a lack of transparency, and once again corruption that sent several members of Congress to court and some to prison… Unchecked power pushes parties to excess regardless of which party is in power’. I can’t agree more with Toomey neither can you.
The dominance of the BDP over the years has brought more questions than answers as indicated by Nicola, Schlemmer and Toomey. Even if I would have tried to pass a sentence short of dismissal for its transgressions, I would have been grossly unfair to the Republic. It is not the BDP’s fault to be dominant but what is at fault is that our Democracy has been treated with a great deal of violence overtime. It has been hit below the belt and badly injured where it needs serious and urgent surgery. I think I have made a case against the dangers of a dominant party to Democracy and recourse thereto. Judge for yourself!