Opposition collective can still win elections under split vote situations

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 31 October 2017   |   By Adam Phetlhe
Opposition collective can still win elections under split vote situations

If only the opposition collective could constantly remind itself that it needs only 29 constituencies to win a general election under the current 57 directly elected constituencies, it would direct its energy and resources in them. And if it also constantly reminded itself that it currently holds some of these constituencies and that it could retain them with hard work on them, it would be almost home and dry. With what it currently holds, it needs about 10 or so to make a home run. The fact that it won them under a split vote situation should even give it more currency to attain the required 29. Instead, the opposition collective is refusing to harvest low lying fruits readily available. Easier said than done, one may quip. There is no point in wasting resources as of now on constituencies like Mmadinare, Serowe North and South and other similar ones. These are safe Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) constituencies. Period! A ‘justifiable’ narrative has been peddled that opposition parties cannot win against the BDP in situations where two opposition parties also participate. The 2014 parliamentary election results show that indeed collective opposition parties lost some constituencies through the splitting of votes between them. But still, the same collective opposition parties won some constituencies under the same circumstances. We should perhaps be saying that opposition parties are unable to win enough constituencies due to a split in votes in some constituencies. This is where collective opposition should do a serious SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. One thing is clear though – collective opposition is a threat to its own strengths and opportunities by amplifying in large measure its weaknesses which naturally and inevitably, becomes detrimental to its overall mission.  And this is why it still occupies opposition benches. Collective opposition won 20 constituencies in the 2014 parliamentary elections in which they came short by another 9 constituencies to win power from the BDP. It is common knowledge that two constituencies (Okavango and Mochudi East) have since reverted to the BDP with Maun West as an independent constituency. It is also common knowledge that the Alliance for Progressives (AP) has taken some five or so with them. In this conversation, I will be disregarding these dynamics on the basis that whichever single constituency each opposition party has, such constituency remains in the opposition.

As stated in the preceding paragraph, collective opposition won 20 constituencies under split vote situations in 2014. Nothing suggests therefore that it cannot win the extra seats required to be declared the winner. In the last election, the BDP got 320,657 votes which translated to 46.46%, the UDC got 207,113 (30.01%) and the BCP 140,998 votes (20.46%). There were 824,073 registered voters with 698,409 votes cast. These figures tell us that on the actual day of voting 348,111 votes went to the collective opposition yet it occupies opposition benches. This is a matter for another day. It is recognised and conceded that a number of dynamics have emerged ever since the 2014 general election chief of which is the birth of AP and the BCP joining the UDC. These dynamics bring desired and undesired consequences for the collective opposition. Firstly, it means the strength of the BCP is significantly increased by votes from the UDC partners in constituencies like Ngami where it lost by 48 votes; Francistown East (245); Selebi-Phikwe East (242); Boteti West (241); Bobonong (120) and other similar constituencies. Secondly, the birth of AP also diminishes the very strength of the UDC by its detachment from it. It is difficult to know the number of BMD and BNF members who voted for the UDC in these constituencies in order to test the diminished strength AP detachment could have caused. The UDC on its part won 17 constituencies under the split vote situation. Some of these, like Goodhope/Mabule, were historical and traditional BDP strongholds which apart from the 2014 general election, the UDC came back even stronger to defend in the subsequent by-election by an even bigger margin. In the 2014 general election, the BCP performed very poorly in constituencies like Gantsi South with a disappointing 481 votes against the BDP’s 4812 and the UDC’s 3846 respectively. In the Molepolole constituencies, it never stood. It would reason therefore that it is better for the BCP to spend resources in constituencies it lost by marginal votes. The party is very strong in Nata-Gweta, Francistown East, Okavango, Ngami, Maun East, Nkange, Bobonong and others. These constituencies, together with the two it holds, could bring it about 10 constituencies. The combination of BMD and BNF is not a threat to the BCP in these constituencies as numbers indicate. The birth of AP should not worry it (for now) in the 2019 context because we do not know what it brings. This said, I will be brave to suggest that AP was part of the UDC in 2014 and cannot therefore threaten the BCP in these constituencies.

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The UDC without the BCP made significant inroads constituency-wise in 2014 (17 constituencies currently if we minus Mochudi East, Maun West and Okavango). But it will be suicidal for the UDC not to recognise and appreciate the impact AP could bring to opposition politics in particular and Botswana politics in general. The birth of AP should in some respects shake both the UDC and the BDP. There are murmurs that there could be en masse departures from the BMD and the anti-Masisi factor. If these murmurs are sustainable, AP could assume the status of a kingmaker come 2019 – the status previously held by the BCP before joining the UDC. Assuming AP does not join the UDC and the split vote situation become part of 2019, some concessions by AP will have to be made. Assuming also that the BCP vigorously concentrates in constituencies referred to above where it is strong, AP will have to not contest in Kanye North, Takatokwane, Letlhakeng/Lephephe. In these constituencies, the combined UDC/BCP votes exceeded the BDP’s. In Kanye North for example, UDC got 5654 and BCP 4030 while the BDP got 5726. This is a constituency which, however toxic relations are between opposition parties, cannot be lost given the healthy numbers. The collective opposition currently has 17 constituencies. It needs 12 more to reach the 29 mark required to win. But then opposition parties are not eager to harvest low lying fruits. These are: spend reasonable resources on constituencies you hold for possible future retention. For example, the BCP is more likely to retain Ramotswa and Selebi-Phikwe West. It will have to vigorously camp in constituencies it narrowly missed in 2014, not suggesting negligence of others. This will give the UDC around 10 constituencies. With two and seven from the BMD and BNF respectively, the UDC stands to get 19. Add six currently held by AP. That makes 25 opposition overall. When this is done, look for a further four to make 29 where you will be home and dry. Any further constituencies will be a bonus. They should capitalise on the political, socio-economic blunders the BDP continues to make unabated. Collective opposition is unfortunately unable to convincingly demonstrate that it gives priority to (1) and (2) because it is concentrating its body and soul on egocentrism and other negative issues. 

Even if AP does not in the end join the UDC which in my view will be suicidal in opposition politics context, a collaborative mechanism where it does not stand in constituencies where the UDC is stronger would be desirable. Nothing suggests for a minute that AP could be strong in Nkange and Bobonong constituencies. Likewise, it would be un-strategic and a waste of resources for AP to stand in these constituencies. While one is not oblivious to the ever changing political landscape which could sway voters in this or that direction, one is equally alive to the fact that if collective opposition put all its eggs in one basket, the split vote mentality which has somewhat and continually prevented it from waking up to smell the coffee, becomes inconsequential provided achievable priorities are set. That said collective opposition can still win under split vote situations. History has proven that it is possible given constituencies the opposition has won in 2014 and in previous elections. Judge for Yourself! Send your comment to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.         

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