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We should guard our democracy against capture

Publishing Date : 23 October, 2018

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There have been new dynamics recently in our politics that call for us as a nation to reflect. While we continue discussion around the cost of running for public office, we should be interested in knowing who really fund our political parties as well as individual candidates.

Ignoring this phenomenon may endanger our democracy and leave in its trail devastating effects on the country’s economy. It is evident that, in our politics where integrity matters less, the power of the money is being exerted by many candidates, whom in the process buy their way into public office.

This is essentially an offense against our democracy because it undermines selection of candidates based on merit or on good will, and promotes a situation where very electorates auction themselves to the highest bidder.  There is no denying that to a greater extent, special interest groups have been having the way in our economy. There is a narrative of individuals who sponsor candidates, and the party, the ruling party in particular in exchange for government tenders.  This notion cannot simply be wished away, it calls for introspection.

Recently at Democracy Symposium held at University of Botswana, several legislators, both present and past, including senior public servant issued a red flag with regard to public funding of political parties. These are the people who know what they are talking about. It should be in the interest of our democracy that this matter forms part of the discussion at the anticipated constitutional reforms. 

This narrative of public funding, in response to fear of capture by special interest, is not only peculiar to Botswana— world over; there is a spirited debate around the matter.

Today’s politicians have become less passionate; membership of parties cannot fund political activities, leaving parties more exposed to vested interests. Today, as many argue, the danger is plutocracy – the ability of a small number of people or economic interests to bend the political process to their will.

We have seen it happening, not far from our shores, in South Africa where the Gupta family managed to have a grip on government machinery. The investigations are ongoing through the Commission of Inquiry, but the revelations so far are enough to teach us a lesson.
The every fact that those who have money are able to convince electorates to trade their votes for money is a basic indication that, the citizens themselves are vulnerable, and that our democracy is in danger.

Electorates these days, especially in rural and poor communities are only willing to vote for a candidate if he pays them. They do not believe by voting they are doing themselves a favour, they believe they are doing a favour to those who are contesting. After all has been said, some these threats to our democracy, if not all, are for us as a nation and leaders to blame. People are cynical about politics and politicians. People do not believe politicians are serving their interest. If they still have this cynical view of politics, why should they care?

In the midst of indifferent citizens, leaders and the civic society should respond to this call to defend our democracy. We should configure a way in which the political parties can be state funded and also have their activities funded. There is a need to set the record straight that our democracy is not for sale, and that public office is not a conduit for self-enrichment.

Once political parties are funded by the state, we should then as a democracy made it mandatory, as matter of law, for them to declare any source funds they receive in order to avoid those special interest or capture. We have seen the power of money playing itself out at last year’s BDP Congress in which delegates shifted alliances after being promised money if they voted certain candidates. The congress left many feeling hard done and for the first time, the power and the danger of money ingrained itself in the democrats.

For many years, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) refused to entertain the idea of political funding, owing to various reasons, including the fact that the status qou tilted the scales in their favour. Not entirely anymore, the recent party primaries made more revelations.  Political funding have had many proponents in the ruling party, including the immediate former BDP secretary general Botsalo Ntuane, who tabled it at 2015 Mmadinare Congress as part of his proposed constitutional reforms.

Former President Sir Ketumile Masire had before his death only indicated his support for political funding, his contention being that opposition parties may end up sourcing funds from undesirable organisations some of which may be involved in terrorism activities. 



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