Strategic Voting Springs Surprises

| November 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

As the dust settles following probably the most hotly contested election since Botswana’s 1966 Independence, political parties are undoubtedly grappling with how to handle what appears to be an emerging voting behaviour.

If the just ended voting patterns are anything to go by, today’s voter is quite complicated, smart and strategic in the sense that heshe prefers diversity rather than block voting as in the past.

As the results of the recent election were announced it emerged that voters had taken control of the voting bidding away from their organisations as they preferred candidates randomly across party lines at both local government and parliamentary levels.

In the first-past-the-post electoral system, which Botswana subscribes to, a voter has the freedom to vote for candidates from different parties based on their expectations on the viability of such candidates.

Thus, during the last election many voters deserted their traditional party candidates at parliamentary level in most constituencies showing confidence in the rival representatives.

One of the aantages of the First-Past-the-Post electoral system, it has been argued, is that it gives rise to single party governments and gives a chance to popular independent candidates to be elected and is simple to use and understand.

However, the results from the elections point to a worrying tide which political parties would find difficult to stem. It is a fact that political parties can no longer rely on their members to vote for the organisation’s candidates at both levels.

Voters are now independent enough to defy their own parties by voting for candidates of their own at any level due to factors that would have been at play at that particular moment during an election.

During the campaign trail, political parties tried hard to brow beat their members to vote for both councillors and MPs as a block to ensure decisive victory but this clarion call fell on deaf ears.

The challenge now for political parties is how best to approach the issue and ensure that their members vote as a block.

In the past it was always a given that in a particular constituency if a particular party won a majority of council seats, the parliamentary candidate was going to replicate that impressive performance. Not anymore.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party was the victim of this strategic voting and it lost control of some of its parliamentary constituencies due to this trend.

For instance, in Mogoditshane – a ruling party ghold – the BDP won all the council seats but lost the parliamentary seat to the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

In the Ghanzi North and Good Hope-Mabule, voters used this sophisticated mode of voting and the results shocked all and sundry as two cabinet ministers lost parliamentary seats to the opposition.

Many theories abound as to the emergence of this trend. University of Botswana academic, Professor Wazha Morapedi argues that the major factor for this trend might be the fact that voters are closer and know their councillors better than parliamentary candidates.

Prof. Morapedi told BOPA that people tended to vote for those who they know and understand better.

He said some of the members of parliament might not be well known to the electorate. Also, he highlighted the fact that voters might vote for all councillors from their party and give the parliamentary vote to a competing party because of factors affecting their relations with their own parliamentary candidate.

On the other hand, he argued that aggrieved voters whose preferred candidates lost in the primary elections might be resorting to strategic voting as a protest at the manner in which their grievances were handled.

ldquoPolitical parties are not doing enough to immediately deal with grievances arising out of primary elections and leave them to fester on for too long without being resolved,rdquo he said.

Instead, he noted that political parties preferred to do last minute gasps of reconciling candidates only when they realised that the aggrieved parties and their supporters had the potential to hurt them at the polls.

This, he explained, might be motivated by the fact that they often undermined or ignored the impact that a losing candidate could have on the party’s fortunes in an election.

Prof Morapedi added that when grievances from losers were not addressed and appeals were just shrugged off, the candidate and their supporters might resort to splitting their votes between their own council candidates and a competing member of parliament from a different party to get back at their own parties.

ldquoThere is also a tendency by the executive to have their own preferred candidates ignoring what voters on the ground want,rdquo said Morapedi.

At times, he highlighted, voters resorted to strategic voting because the competing candidates possessed the attributes and qualities that may not be there in their own parliamentary candidate.

Through mixing of candidates, he said, voters believed that they would be better off having a competing party candidate as a representative in the legislature rather than their own.

To deal with this new trend of sophistication by voters, Prof Morapedi implored political parties to do more to resolve grievances in a timely manner and for party executives to desist from imposing their own preferred candidates who may not be the voter’s preferred choice.

ldquoWhen voters prefer a certain candidate, political parties should respect that as ignoring this might prove suicidal at the polls,rdquo he argued. The BDP won the elections with 37 parliamentary seats Umbrella for Democratic Change came second with 17 seats while the BCP could only manage three seats. Source: BOPA

Source : Botswana Daily News

Category: Governance

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