Botswana election, 2014

I’ve long been skeptical of Botswana’s classification as democratic/free by standard datasets we political scientists rely on. Based on a pre-election report by Amy Poteete for The Monkey Cage, skepticism seems justified. Mysterious accidents and other odd events involving political rivals, increasing partisan use of state assets…

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the only ruling party Botswana has ever known, is feeling the heat, and is experiencing internal tension, including cases of losers in candidate selection running against the party’s official choice.

In the 2009 election, the BDP won over three fourths of the seats* on just 53% of votes (FPTP). That’s some serious disproportionality, but a result like that reveals electoral precariousness.

Using the dataset of the Constituency Level Electoral Archive, I took a look at just how many seats the BDP won only narrowly in 2009. In that election, its median margin over the runner-up was .188 of the district’s valid vote. It would need to lose at least 15 seats to fail to retain its majority. The 15th most marginal seat was won by .116. (Five were under .05.) There were 17 seats that it won with vote shares below that of its nationwide share of .533, including seven won with under half the vote. Thus the party looks somewhat vulnerable if there is a modest swing against it or if the defecting candidates are in close districts and take some chunk of the BDP vote with them.

Nonetheless, the BDP in 2009 did not face a single opponent in many districts; of the 17 districts where its vote was below the nationwide share, it won with a median margin of .081. Thus unless its opposition is more coordinated in 2014, the BDP will probably hang on even in the face of an adverse swing.

The election is on 24 October.

* The data I am working with show 44 seats, which would be 77.2%, while Poteete says 79%.

10 thoughts on “Botswana election, 2014

  1. Is Botswana BDP the longest ruling democratically elected party in the world? Botswana is one of those borderline cases like Singapore, Malaysia, and perhaps Mexico before the 2000 Presidential Election. The opposition has to file joint candidates against the BDP if they want to reduce it’s majority and possibly win. FPTP is a very harsh electoral system, and it is not uncommon for there to be disproportionate results. Perhaps if the opposition wins a majority, they might consider changing the electoral system towards a MMP system to ensure and strengthen parliament’s powers and checks and balances.

    • In what way is it like Singapore, Malaysia or Mexico? Has Botswana had gerrymandering, partisan malapportionment or electoral fraud?

      • I agree with JD. If the question is, “Is Botswana BDP the longest ruling democratically elected party in the world?”, then the set of comparison cases would not be Singapore, Malaysia, and especially not Mexico before 2000 (or, more appropriately, 1997).

        As to the question itself, it is a good one. I am not sure of the answer, but if Botswana really has been democratic (by reasonably strict criteria) this whole time, then the BDP would be a good candidate for “longest ruling democratically elected party in the world”.

  2. The BDP has ran Botswana since the first election in 1965 to the present, and that is 49 years. Would Sweden be a good comparison of the Social Democrats from 1932-1976 (except the brief 6 months of 1936) 44 years? What about sub national jurisdictions such as the Canadian Providence of Alberta; the Progressive Conservatives have run Alberta from 1971 to the present, and that is 43 years. Any other contenders for the longest ruling democratically elected political party for national and sub national jurisdictions?

    • Well, the Swedish Social Democrats did not usually have a majority of seats. That’s a pretty big difference. The Alberta case is certainly a good parallel, if we want to include sub-national jurisdictions.

  3. The IEC reports the following results: BDP 37, Umbrella for Democratic Change 17, Congress 3, which means a total of at least 39 for the BDP (including the president and attorney-general, who are ex-officio MPs), not including the 4 members to be co-opted.

    • That’s interesting. But is the opposition actually “coordinable”? That is, is it made up of tendencies that prefer one another over the BDP? Or might the supporters of one opposition party prefer the BDP over another opposition party? I have no idea in the case of Botswana, but this is always the fundamental question in analyzing manufactured majorities.

  4. Is Botswana the only democracy where the lower house has some unelected members? I can only think of India in having 2 seats for it’s Anglo Indian minority. What is the reason for the unelected members?

    • Many African countries have additional appointed members (sometimes co-opted as in Botswana, more commonly appointed by the president), additional examples are to be found in the Caribbean, as well as Singapore. In the latter case, the justification was to appoint a few opposition members, but recently, the institution has not always been used in this way.

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