Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Botswana: Challenges and Opportunities

Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Botswana: Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt

Introduction

It is common knowledge that Botswana has maintained a democratic tradition through regular elections and multiparty system for over the past four decades. The country is now approaching a fifth decade wherein regular five-yearly elections would have been held. For all those held, they have been unanimously pronounced to have been free and fair. In all these elections, no less than four political parties have participated (and at the most seven political parties participated), and this attests to the vibrancy of the multiparty system in place in Botswana. Despite the free political environment, the government in Botswana has remained in the hands of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Some analysts have argued that opposition parties have not been able to package themselves as viable alternates for government.1 This paper argues that the lack of political parties' institutionalization impacts on democratic consolidation in Botswana. The paper discusses the challenges political parties face which hinder their institutionalization. It also shows that despite such challenges, there have been, and continue to be, opportunities for party institutionalization in Botswana. The paper uses the three major political parties to show the lack of institutionalization and the challenges and opportunities that abound.

The paper argues that political parties are yet to develop and institutionalize themselves to a point where the acclaimed democracy in Botswana can be consolidated. According to Huntington,2 democracy is consolidated when parties are able to compete and exchange power peacefully following accepted democratic means, and when the winner is able to democratically lose office and accept the results.

Huntington's 'two-turnover conception' has largely been criticized for its failure to recognize several democracies with proven endurance3 simply because office alternation has not occurred. Huntington also gives primacy to election results over the lived reality of citizens. In Africa, countries like Ghana and Zambia are some of those who have experienced office alternation. It was only in the 1990s that the two countries re-embraced multipartyism in a move popularly referred to as the 'third wave'. In the period preceding the third wave, Ghana had military interventions and authoritarian regimes. Even following the third wave, Ghana's democratic credentials are at best mixed.4 As for Zambia, it was under one-party role for quite an extended period under the guise of promoting national unity. The sad story is that President Fredrick Chiluba attempted to tamper with the constitution to give him a third presidential term. In comparison to Botswana, these two countries have experienced office alternation. Following the Huntington conception, the two countries may be said to have a consolidated democracy. What we may ask is, "Are these countries more democratic than Botswana?" It may well be the case that Botswana citizens experience more democracy than citizens of these two countries. Does office alternation enhance the democratic culture and practice of a state? Does the transition improve the effectiveness of democratic institutions, such as political parties?

Botswana's democracy remains the most celebrated in Africa. In his comment on Botswana's democracy, Fombad5 noted, "Botswana remains, by and large, Africa's most successful example of an open, transparent, and democratic government." Rotberg6 observed that "the country (Botswana) has remained democratic in spirit and form continuously since independence in 1966, an unmatched record in Africa." The blight of Botswana's democracy, however, is that it has been a one-party dominant democracy since independence in 1966. In spite of the de facto one-party dominance, Botswana has been a liberal democracy and has conducted free and fair elections. And indeed Botswana's democracy, with its longevity, meets most of Huntington's necessary ingredients for democratic consolidation. …

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