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Political Parties

It is commonly known that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) draws significant backing from the mining company De Beers. The Party and its supporters are hesitant to publicly disclose the magnitude and nature of that support. Botswana's ruling political party is in long-term decline. Although the potential for social upheaval is minimal, a change in the political balance of power is possible during the next decade. Urbanisation has meant that an increasing proportion of the electorate is detached from the conservative mores of rural society, upon which BDP draws many of its values. The opposition parties' urban support base means they tend to advocate more radical policies, especially in government spending. Both the opposition parties and elements of the independent press have been highly critical of the current President and what they describe as his authoritarianism, including the introduction of a Media Law and a high tax levy on alcoholic drinks.

There are four main parties and a number of smaller parties. In national elections held October 16, 2009, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 45 of 57 contested National Assembly seats, the Botswana National Front (BNF) won 6 seats, and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP)/Botswana Alliance Movement pact won 5 seats. For the first time in the history of the country, an independent candidate won a seat in parliament during the 2009 election. Four additional seats filled by individuals elected by the National Assembly went to the ruling BDP. In the city of Gaborone, the BDP took all but one of the five constituencies from the opposition, taking control of the city council. In May-July 2010, 7 BDP parliamentarians and the lone independent changed their membership to the newly created Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). In August 2010, 2 BMD members returned to the BDP, leaving the BMD with 6 seats in parliament.

The first political party in Botswana was short-lived and limited in scope as it was - the Federal Party founded by one of Botswana's truly outstanding literary figures - poet cum playwright Leetile Disang Raditladi. But the first modern nationalist parties emerged in the early 1960's. From 1959 a number of competing nationalist political parties emerged, namely: the Bechuanaland Protectorate Federal Party, Bechuanaland Peoples Party(BPP), Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) and the Botswana Independence Party (BIP). As a result of the disappointment with the Legislative Council, the Bechuanaland Peoples Party (BPP) under the leadership of Dr Kgalemang Motsete - an accomplished music composer and educationist - was the first mass party to agitate for full independence not later than 1964.

Former treason trialist (under the Union of South Africa Terrorism Act) Mr. Motsamai Mpho was the secretary general. Internal dissention on the eve of the first national elections in 1965 resulted in a split and the birth of a new party - the Bechuanaland Independence Party under the leadership of Mr. Motsamai Mpho. Dr Motsete attempted to retain a small group of the BPP's old guard but lost power to Mr. Matante.

The Bechuanaland Democratic Party was next to be formed under the leadership of Mr Seretse Khama (later Sir Seretse) who became the first President of the Republic of Botswana. The party's vice president was an eloquent master farmer and former journalist -Mr. Quett Ketumile Masire (Botswana's second President). The party enjoyed widespread support and was popular with Batswana and also enjoyed the support of the chiefs, the moderate, the wealthy and the educated. The Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP), with Seretse Khama at its head, drew overwhelming support from rural progressives and conservatives alike. The liberal-democratic BDP swept aside its pan-Africanist and socialist rivals in the small railway towns, to win the first universal franchise elections of 1965.

The Botswana National Front was formed in 1967, led by Dr Kenneth Koma - a widely read socialist intellectual. The BNF wasthe official opposition party.

As of July 1998, 13 political parties had registered:

  1. Botswana Congress Party
  2. Botswana Democratic Party
  3. Botswana Labour Party
  4. Botswana National Front
  5. Botswana Peoples Party
  6. Botswana Progressive Union
  7. Botswana Workers Front
  8. Independence Freedom Party
  9. Mels Movement of Botswana
  10. Social Democratic Party
  11. United Action Party
  12. United Democratic Front
  13. United Socialist Party

The first general elections were held in March 1965 and the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (now Botswana Democratic Party) won in a landslide victory, taking 28 of the 31 contested seats. The BPP (then Bechuanaland Peoples Party) won three seats. Neither Dr. Motsete's BPP (which has since become defunct) nor Mr Mpho's BIP secured a single seat. The BIP however won a single seat in 1966 and lost it in the 1979 General elections.

Seretse Khama becoming the Prime Minister and later the First President of the Republic of Botswana. Seretse Khama served as President until his death in 1980 after which the Party continued to command substantial political support. He was succeeded by his Vice-President Quett Ketumile Joni Masire (later Sir Ketumile Masire), who retired in March 1998 and was, in turn, succeeded by his vice-president, Festus Mogae. The Botswana Democratic Party won the 1999 general elections under the leadership of President Festus Mogae. It was re-elected for a further five years in 2004 giving President Mogae a further term of five years.

Ian Khama was recruited from the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) to the ruling party in 1998 by the then President Festus Mogae to try and unify the BDP, a party which has been riddled with factions. There are two main factions in the party, one headed by (Vice President) Mompati Merafhe and Jacob Nkate (Minister of Education and Skills Development) and the other faction led by Daniel Kwelagobe (Public Service Minister) and Ponatshego Kedikilwe (Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Minister). When Khama became President, he attempted to balance the two factions by making Merafhe his Vice President and Kwelagobe both a Minister and the Chairman of BDP. Despite this attempt to keep both factions in check, President Khama was said to be worried by the intensifying animosity between them.

The party's internal goal was to increase the BDP's share of the popular vote in 2009, after it has declined over the past few election cycles. During the 2004 general elections, the BDP won only 52% of Botswana's popular vote. However, thanks to Botswana's single-member district, first-past the post system, the BDP won 44 of Botswana's 57 elected Parliamentary seats, a strong majority in the legislature.

While support for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is declining, the BDP has a number of advantages, including an effective organizational structure, strong ties with traditional leaders, substantial corporate sponsorship, and popular association with public welfare programs. Consequently, opposition parties face a formidable challenge in unseating the current government. The winner-takes-all electoral system builds under-representation of smaller parties into the political system. Since most companies count Government agencies among their largest customers, their proprietors often fear that openly donating to opposition parties could cost them vital Government contracts.

Opposition politics in Botswana have been crippled by factionalism. A bitter split in 1998 between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), the second largest opposition party, and Botswana National Front [BNF], Botswana's largest opposition party, literally degenerated into fisticuffs. This was followed by the New Democratic Front's split from the BNF in 2003, meaning that trust among opposition parties is low. There is an increasing realisation that the monolithic BDP can only be effectively challenged by some sort of electoral pact although attempts following the 2004 electioin to form an opposition alliance failed. Some arrangements were in place in Parliament, where the BNF provides the Leader of the Oppostion and the BCP the Chief Whip.

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