We live in interesting times. Since the 2014 general elections there hasn’t been stability in the Botswana electoral space. We thought elections were done and dusted with, and that we would return to them in 2019. We were wrong. We had said bye to elections but we encountered them much earlier than initially anticipated! Barely a few months after the 2014 general elections, there has been a few resignations of elected politicians. We here say elected because politicians assume office by election. They do not assume office by birth or sheer appointment, but by election. I am aware that there are specially elected members of parliament, however in general, politicians ascend to power through an election. They have to campaign, promise electorates multiple goodies with the hope to impress the potential voter. In the language of transliterated Setswana: ba a ithekisa – a terrible expression which brings to mind images of self-prostitution. An alternative expression is ba a ipapatsa – though better, it still means self-advertisement with connotations of self-trade. Some say ba ithatisa batho, which literally means that once people love you they are more likely to vote for you. In many ways you have to be someone they love, that is, in the youth language of 2015, you have to be their kind of bae (a truncated baeb, which itself is a bastardized babe, with its roots in baby). Steinmetz writes in the Times that: “today bae is used as a term of endearment, often referring to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Or perhaps a prospect who might one day hold such a lofty position. Bae has also taken on a wider meaning, being used to label something as generally good or cool”. This means that people vote for those they love or perhaps like. The politician’s struggle is therefore to endear himself to the voter. Therefore politicians don’t just assume office by election; what the voters engage in is effectively bae-election, it is an election of the one they love. Bae-election is therefore central to democracy itself. People must vote for a person of their choice; a person they love: their kind of bae. Such person must not be forced upon them. Their vote must be a consequence of personal volition.
But we know that in general the language of trade is rife in elections. A politician o a ipapatsa – he sells himself – in effect go nna le papadi kgotsa papadisano – some kind of trade takes place. Is it any wonder then that politicians actually do a lot to buy elections? Politicians achieve this through a plethora of strategies. Some I hear host parties where potential voters are invited to partake in free food and copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. Lately there have been free public music concerts all designed to impress, in effect to woe the voter to the politician’s side. There has been a distribution of blankets, radios and all sorts of other freebies. All of these and others have been designed to buy an election; it is project buy election. The idea of buying an election sounds reprehensible but all politicians engage in it through various strategies. Buying an election is a central part of selling one’s self. It is a costly affair to the politician, but a delight to the voter. In some cases free t-shirts are distributed to the potential voter, so that they could be worn, in effect turning the potential voter not just into a beneficiary of a piece of garment, but into a mobile billboard for the politician. So buying an election must not be seen as splashing cash on the people you want on your side. In most cases it occurs with non-monetary incentives like tenders, jobs or Chibuku.
But I have digressed somewhat. I must return to my original line of thought. In 2015 we have witnessed a number of resignations of elected politicians. In Mochudi, Mr Titus Kebuileng of the UDC resigned his council seat necessitating a bye-election which was won by Mr Molefe Mosothwane of the BCP. In Goodhope/Mabule constituency James Mathokgwane of the UDC resigned his constituency seat citing personal medical reasons. This necessitated a bye-election. The constituency was won by Kgosi Lotlaamoreng of the Barolong still of the UDC. I here intentionally give examples of resignations at both council and parliamentary level because ours is a unique electoral system. During an election we vote twice: we vote for a councillor and then we vote for a parliamentarian. We don’t vote for the president. Since we vote for two people, you could say that what we have is really a bi-election, an election characterised by the casting of two votes: one for a councillor and another one for a member of parliament. Yes sometimes we do have a bye-election which is really a bae-election with the politicians attempting to buy elections since they can only assume power by election. And like I said ours is really a bi-election system.
I must conclude with this: the Setswana phrase for voting is go tlhopha. It really means to select amongst many. It presupposes that there are many elements from which one or more entities are selected. In Setswana it is nonsensical go tlhopha when the person who is being elected is standing unopposed. In that scenario there is nothing like go tlhopha. There is no selection. Strictly speaking this is the same meaning that holds with the English word elect. Elect is of Latin etymology from electus from eligo. It means “to pick out; to select from among two or more, that which is preferred.” Regardless of what we think we are doing, when someone is running unopposed, that person has not been elected – casting a vote for such a person is de facto waste of time. All such a person needs is his own vote to assume office – his singular declaration of interest.