The day after defeat for some and victory for others is perhaps the most reflective. While attempts to explain the result have been many and varied, it’s worthwhile to note that an election is not a mono issue/variable exercise. As such, a variety of explanations would speak to a general election.
Yes, there’d be an overriding factor but it’s more a matter of pluralism of thoughts than uniformity. Before I share my thoughts, I am a member of the BDP. An inherent element of bias may arise but I try to give you my thoughts as they are without consideration of my party preference.
Circumstances around results are different. But the result is actually not so different from 2014. You know when they say the more things change, the more things remain the same? Nuances have largely changed. The substance has not really changed. The BDP has a seat more now than it had in 2014 (38). The UDC now has 15 compared to 17 in 2014 while the BPF, the new kid on the block, has three, the AP one. The nuances around the individual personalities who won and lost are glaring, yes, but the result/gap is the same basically. The BDP popular vote has grown by slightly over 2%. In politics as in war, ‘the game is always with who commit the fewest faults’ (Napoleon Bonaparte). In this election, that without a doubt has been President Masisi.
In this election, I rank four factors in order of importance as having mattered the most: 1. A vote for Masisi. 2. Challenges with strategic alliances in the opposition. 3. Regional politics. 4. The manifesto.
Vote Masisi – trust, betrayal and sympathy.
Historically, the BDP performance is buoyant when a new president comes into office. It appears a sense of goodwill for the person who comes in as different renews hope. This has been a trend through Mogae to Khama and now President Masisi. The popular vote almost always jumps. It peaked with Khama at about 54%. And it appears it shall hover around the same figures post this election. To give you a clearer picture, Masisi has gained an additional seat and 2.25% growth in the popular vote, his predecessor at the first attempt also gained a seat and 1.25% growth in the popular vote. That euphoria is real.
Secondly, there was wisdom in making this election appear to be a presidential election. This is probably also justified, given the powers that a presidency wields in our country. The BDP was struggling with a manifesto that various people, even within, viewed as not worthy when put side by side with that of the UDC. The choice was to then persistently sell this manifesto or simply make the election about something else while still referencing the manifesto. Thus the election became about Masisi. You want a typical example? During radio debates, whenever in doubt, a BDP candidate would simply say “Mokgweetsi o mosha,” or that “There is a new driver.” And a song was made around Masisi calling.
Third, Masisi was able to cleverly position as a candidate for change. Usually, the opposition is seen as the agents of change. Masisi flipped the script. A classic example is this: whenever asked about, say, the structure of the economy being skewed towards non-indigenous citizens, he’d always agree, then juxtapose to say it is why he is running so as to fix this and change things for the better for indigenous Batswana. The opposition did not have a monopoly of the change agenda. And this meant actual swing voters on the agenda of change had a choice. And that choice was not confined to the usual opposition. They could still vote for change by voting BDP.
The next element is what was aptly captured in a song: “TlogelaMasisi a buse.” Society generally has a soft spot for a person whom they see as an innocent being bullied. Whether the bullying is actual or not isn’t, the perception matters more. Masisi was perceived in many quarters of the middle class as being bullied for his stance. And this got him sympathy. And the element of being bullied wasn’t limited to Masisi, it rather was a case of degree and numbers of those feeling he is being bullied.
Former president Ian Khama went back to his domain in the Central District to elicit sympathy and spoke about being bullied by this government. He came out with the votes. Yes, chieftainship matters, but that perception also mattered a big deal.
On the other hand, Duma Boko did not quite emerge with the victim card intact. Unlike in 2014 when they elicited sympathy with devastating effect, this time around the UDC was outdone by Masisi and Khama at presenting themselves as innocent victims being bullied. Boko did not have sympathy from outside his traditional supporters on the sympathy card. Partly because of an otherwise admirable trait he has – confidence.
His confidence boiled over into narcissism. Confronted with tax issues, he merely said he’d swipe for another car. Gifted a national presidential debate with record audiences, he told everyone he had no reason to introduce himself and proceeded repeatedly to call his opponents by names that are not exactly polite. To this day, I blame whoever gave him that Ratsie Setlhako song. If it was in another country, I’d say there must be a Ratsie Sethako movie soon to premiere and have the promoters insert his words into Boko’s speech to sell their movie.
His performance on both instances robbed him of sympathy in an election in which playing victim had a high premium. He instead presented himself as a megalomaniac. His defiance regarding his support from Zunaid Moti did not help much either. He became the merchant who’d sell the country to an outsider at a time when Masisi spoke of Batswana ba sekei. But the good thing is that Boko is who he is. The people only had to choose whether he is the one they want or not. His loss at Gaborone Bonnington North was not a loss to Annah Mokgethi, it was a loss to Masisi. The difference came from the swing voter who isn’t too beholden to party colours. And these found Masisi a more acceptable character. Ndaba acceptable, yes, but incapable of winning enough to form a government, hence Masisi being the alternative. Gone go tlhophiwaMasisi.