Lessons from Letlhakeng West by-elections

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Letlhakeng West constituency by-elections have come and gone. Botswana Democratic (BDP) candidate Magang Ngaka Ngaka won the vote by 3437 against Botswana National Front (BNF) candidate Filbert K Nagafela who got 3096 votes. The BDP has widened the margin to 341 from 34 in 2009 elections. The Letlhakeng West by-elections have been one of the most controversial in the history of by-elections in Botswana. There were reports of foul play especially leveled against the BDP. The BDP also alleged treachery against it by the BNF and trade unions. The BNF accused the BDP of vote buying, abuse of state resources and other dirty tactics. The BDP also decried what they perceived as involvement and activism of public servants representing Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) in the BNF campaign.


What is clear from the Letlhakeng West by-elections is that the vote was free but not fair; the political playing field was uneven-it has always been but this time it was worse. The BDP used a lot of money and other resources including personnel; cabinet ministers and MPs spent time in the area campaigning. One important lesson to the opposition in general is that come 2014 general elections, the BDP is going to be even more ruthless; the political playing field will be more uneven. There will be limited access to the state media, no public funding of political parties and more abuse of state resources by the President, his number two and Ministers.


However, the opposition should not de-spair; ruling parties elsewhere lost elections notwithstanding their resource endowment. Michael Sata beat Rupia Banda despite the latter’s exorbitant campaign financed by among others Chinese investors in Zambia. Abdoulaye Wade lost Senegalese presidency to Macky Sall despite incumbency privileges and riches of the former. There are many examples in Africa. In 2009 elections in Botswana, businessman Neo Moroka, then Minister of Trade and Industry lost his Kgalagadi South seat to John Toto. Notwithstanding his privileges as Minister of Education and resources at his disposal, Jacob Nkate was defeated by Taolo Habano in Ngami. Kavis Kario, then Assistant Minister of Education lost to Gilson Saleshando despite the former’s incumbency privileges and exorbitant BDP campaign in Selebi Phikwe West. Despite his flashy and extravagant campaign, the late businessmen and former Assistant Minister Duncan Mlazie lost to Gibson Mshingwe.


There are many examples that can be cited. The aforementioned examples do not how-ever detract from the importance of resources in elections. There are many other examples where money has been a factor in winning an election. 2014 elections are likely to be more expensive than previous elections. The ruling party is going to engage in some form of political business cycle in 2014. There is going to be road maintenance and constructions, projects launches and ground breaking ceremonies and other economic activities probably calculated to woo voters. There will be intense public works programme, blankets, radio and sweets distribution and other programmes in 2014. However, expansionary monetary and fiscal policies have politically well-liked consequences in the short run (increase in public service expenditure, loan and grants schemes, tax cuts, falling unemployment, falling interest rates, new government spending on services for special interests, handouts etc).


Undesirably, however, these very policies are not sustainable, especially if pursued to excess like it is likely to be the case in Botswana next year and in an era where the country is faced with challenges resulting from the global economic meltdown. They can have very obnoxious consequences in the longer term like accelerating inflation, an untenably low rate of savings to support future investment, damage to the foreign trade balance, long-term expansion of gov- ernment’s share of the gross national product (GDP) at the expense of people’s disposable incomes, inter alia.