Social Cleavages and Party Alignment in Botswana: Dominant Party System Debate Revisited

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Batlang Seabo
Bontle Masilo


This article analyzes the dominant party system in Botswana through a social structural paradigm. Debates surrounding the dominant party system of Botswana typically focus on the relative strength of opposition parties vis-à-vis the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), privileges of incumbency enjoyed by the BDP, the majoritarian electoral system as well as the BDP’s association with the hugely popular first President of the country, Sir Seretse Khama. Based on sociological explanations, this paper investigates whether there is social cleavage structure in Botswana’s party system and whether the same cleavages can explain the distribution of votes and voting patterns. Taking the cleavage thesis as a point of departure, the paper acknowledges the presence of social cleavages but argues that these social divisions have not been effectively mobilised by opposition parties, and through various tactics the ruling BDP has exploited and pacified them in order to mirror the society. The result has been a predominant party system that has characterised party politics for much of the post-independence era despite the declining popular vote of BDP which has been in power since Botswana attained independence in 1966.

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