Expert warns of first disputed election for Botswana

Election expert Dr Victor Shale said the first past the post electoral system was problematic.

Voting opened on Wednesday in Botswana for a hotly contested general election. Picture: Nthakoana Ngatane/EWN.

GABORONE - Experts monitoring the Botswana elections have warned that the continent's most stable democracy might be facing its first disputed election - or even a coalition government.

Thousands of voters cast their ballots on Wednesday in a fiercely contested poll. It’s feared the election might produce a hung parliament with no outright winner.

Results are expected to come in from Thursday evening.

Botswana has been dubbed Africa's most stable democracy - but it has kept the first past the post electoral system that was adopted from the UK.

The model recognises one winner in a constituency - even when the percentage of votes of the loser is high.

Election expert Dr Victor Shale said this had caused problems in other countries.

“The weakness of the first past the post system is disregarding the popular vote. If you look at the past three elections in Botswana, you'll actually realise that the opposition parties vote combined, far outweighs what the ruling party has obtained - the ruling popular vote has been declining over the years.”

Unlike other parties, the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change has already warned it would only accept the outcome if certain conditions were met.

Shale said this - plus the possibility of an outcome that didn't produce an outright winner - should sound alarm bells.

“The only worry is I am not convinced that the idea of coalition governments has sunk in or that people have taken time to reflect on it. And people have gone out of their way to look for best practices in the SADC region or beyond to understand what they are going into. And without that, we are likely to go into a situation where they go into a coalition, but once they are in, they find they can't work together. Lesotho is a close example.”

The national parliament winner must win at least in 29 of the 57 constituencies.

And if this doesn't happen, Botswana will either have its first coalition government - or a different party in power for the first time since 1966.

WATCH: Voting under way in Botswana