Mmegi Online :: BDP loses, as opposition gains
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Friday 16 November 2018, 11:44 am.
BDP loses, as opposition gains

Batswana have spoken emphatically as the country emerges from the grueling 11th general election, which has recorded an historic decline in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) popular vote.
By Ryder Gabathuse 2013-10-04 09:40:41 Fri 31 Oct 2014, 15:24 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: BDP loses, as opposition gains

On the parliamentary contests, the ruling BDP has garnered a total 320,665 votes or 46.7 percent, which shows a decline in popular vote of about 6.56 percent from the 2009 general elections performance.

In 2009 general elections, the BDP emerged victorious via 53.26 percent with 290,099 people having voted for them. Incidentally in 1965, the first ever election on the eve of Botswana’s independence, the BDP popular vote stood at 80.4 percent.

A total of 823,306 voters had registered in this year’s general elections whilst in the 2009 general elections it was 544,647 people.

The opposition parties came out stronger this time around and their combined performance literally hands the government over to them if they were fully united. 

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) came second with a stronger performance for a party participating for the first time in the election and it has literally become a game changer in Botswana politics.

UDC got 206,969 votes or 30.1 percent of the popular vote whilst the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) got 140,404 or 20.4 percent. Combined, the opposition yields 347,373 votes or 50.5 percent of the popular vote.

Opposition UDC – a newcomer on Botswana’s political landscape-proved the might of united forces to the doubting Thomases when they overtook an older player in the opposition bloc, BCP in the popular vote.

In terms of the number of votes however,  BCP’s popular vote registered an improvement from 104,302 votes or 19.15 percent.  The improvement in the BCP popular vote however does not translate into more seats as in 2009 elections it emerged with four seats and this time around it got only three. The BCP gained two more seats through defections and one in a by-election early this year.

The BDP has been consistently contesting the general elections since 1965 whilst the BCP contested the elections for the first time in 1999, a year after it was formed as a breakaway party from the Botswana National Front (BNF).

UDC, a coalition of Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP), has seemingly raised political appetite in opposition ranks.  These days people who have been fence sitting, now identify themselves with the united parties.

UDC was formed after the massive public sector strike of 2011 and was duly formalised as a party in 2013 ahead of this year’s general elections. It therefore has roots and connections with Botswana’s public sector employees, a 100,000 membership-strong trade union.

Public servants under the guise of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) had vowed to give their support to a united opposition front and the assumption is that they did not disappoint.

Therefore, UDC was seen as the best platform to represent the interests of the public sector workers although trade unionists held differing opinions on their commitment to the UDC.

 Why the decline in BDP fortunes?

Factors are many and varied that President Ian Khama and his lieutenants chose to ignore or acted belatedly to counter the onslaught from the opposition, which has left them a bemusedly frustrated lot by now.

Generally, the BDP under Khama became complacent and stuck to the country’s political history rather than fight to retain their constituencies even when the marauding and increasingly potent opposition invaded their strongholds.

They undermined the strength of the opposition and the credible threats mounted by the public servants in lending their support to the UDC. The opposition was very creative in its approach for all eyes to see and ears to hear.

They (BDP) seemingly ignored the innovative means of campaigns mounted by the opposition to penetrate the traditional BDP strongholds. People, saw, heard and were convinced that the opposition and the UDC, in particular, was credible as an alternative government.

First, the BDP blundered by preventing its parliamentary candidates from engaging in private radio station, Gabz Fm parliamentary debates. The opposition parties took advantage of every available platform and utilised their chances to sell their candidates to the masses and it worked well for them.

The calibre of some BDP parliamentary candidates has been doubtful and the party preferred to debate on the state-run Radio Botswana for their protection.

The BDP controversial Bulela Ditswe primaries produced about 60 percent of the BDP candidates at both parliament and council level who were newcomers and without the requisite experience.

When a lot of disillusioned Bulela Ditswe losers preferred to contest either as independents or crossed the floor to the opposition, such movements least worried the BDP as no effort was really made to dissuade the affected politicians from leaving en masse.

BOFEPUSU leaders may have differed in the public domain on the position of the federation as to how to vote, but there is a general belief that workers obeyed and voted out the BDP in targeted areas.

For instance, BOFEPUSU secretary for labour, Johnson Motshwarakgole was given a free role to sell the notion that BOFEPUSU should vote in favour of the UDC. He was a permanent feature at UDC main functions and he managed to send the message home.

The BDP chief campaigner, President Khama and the national campaigns manager, Alec Seametso took the BOFEPUSU appeal for granted to the extent that in a previous interview, Seametso said that his party preferred to leave workers alone as they were an apolitical group.

In the 2009 general elections, Motshwarakgole, acting on behalf of the Manual Workers Union, released a hit list of MPs the union had


to vote out and it was dismissed as a non-starter by the BDP.

There were four MPs in particular who were cabinet members that the union targeted to oust: Jacob Nkate, Neo Moroka, Kavis Kario and Mompati Merafhe.

The BDP, led by Khama, did not take the threats to oust MPs seriously to the extent that when workers took position they (BDP) got punished as Nkate, Moroka, Kario were toppled. It was only Merafhe on that list who survived the chop.

BOFEPUSU, led by Motshwarakgole issued a 2014 hit list targeting some BDP MPs and leader of BCP, Dumelang Saleshando. The Khama-led BDP took the threats for granted and never countered them. Saleshando was punished for the refusal of his party to join the UDC.

Some of the legislators targeted by the BOFEPUSU members included, Kitso Mokaila, Daniel Kwelagobe, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, Shaw Kgathi, Keletso Rakhudu, and Mokgweetsi Masisi. Worse, six Cabinet members seeking re-election tumbled- Mokaila, Johnnie Swartz, Rakhudu, Matlhabaphiri, Patrick Masimolole and Olebile Gaborone.

 “BOFEPUSU members did listen to their leadership proposals and executed their mission,” said Motshwarakgole in a telephone interview this week. “When you have a government that does not respect the voice of the workers, you have to hit it where it hurts them the most,” declared an excited Motshwarakgole. He stated that when a government destroys and undermines structures such as the Bargaining Council, the only option is to use politics to remove them.

The fiery trade unionist said the union was irked by the reality that Khama was so brave that he could choose to announce public servants pay rise at kgotla meetings when there were established structures where such issues could be discussed.

“We were countering the voice of a government that does not respect the established structures,” observed Motshwarakgole and added that if structures are respected then there will be a forum to discuss union-government issues.

The ideal setup advocated by BOFEPUSU is where the union and the government engage each other on pertinent issues.

“We may not agree with each other all the time, but the government should be willing to engage and respect us. So they paid the price.”

Motshwarakgole has vowed that BOFEPUSU is going to monitor how Masisi deals with the union in whatever capacity.

“If Masisi listens to the union then all will be well, but if he becomes like his old self then we will make him pay the price of his machinations.”

UDC spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa attributed his party’s good performance to opposition cooperation. “People were impressed by our departure from the old way of doing things and they looked at us as a party that provided hope,” he said.

Mohwasa felt that people no longer found a “disjointed” BDP relevant to their case.

“Also, the quality of leadership within the UDC has left the party appealing to the masses,” he added. On the other hand conceded Saleshando: “ We have not been able to attain the targets we set out to achieve. We have lost seats that we had won in 2009. We have not been able to retain the Francistown-West constituency which we had won through a by-election.”

In a post election press conference held in Gaborone this week, Saleshando further noted that notwithstanding their loss, the BCP remained relevant to the national politics. He further took responsibility as a leader for the party’s poor showing.

As for the BDP, national campaigns manager, Alec Seametso was hamstrung to comment as he said his party has just started the process of assessing and compiling information on the weekend election.

“We are assessing and compiling a comprehensive report to find out what could have occasioned a disappointing popular vote below 50 percent,” said Seametso this week before hanging up.

Analysing the election, University of Botswana (UB) political analyst, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale observed that a voter is a very complicated animal and trying to go into the mind of a voter can even be more complicated.

“Batswana want change,” Botlhale said, adding that in the short term they wanted a strong, vibrant and robust opposition that can provide checks and balances on the ruling party. In the long term, he said voters would want a change of government.

He noted that a vote is an investment and voters will rather vote for a party that will advance their interests. The political analyst said parties have a platform, which is their brand or merchandise. But, if the brand loses appeal people switch brands. He gave an example of the market place where there are consumers and sellers. He reiterated that a vote is an expression of preference.

“In the case of the BDP popular vote decline, people are not rejecting the brand completely but they are unhappy with certain aspects of the brand which calls for a serious revamp,” he observed.

He denied that the BDP lost ground because it was complacent in its campaigns arguing, “they knew UDC was going to give them a run for their money. They tried very hard to maintain ground but they could not sell.”

One of the many strengths of the UDC was its proposal to steer the economy in a manner that it will be pro-poor and provide relevant social nets. They have also been advocating a need to be completely different from the BDP.

“A party needs to be relevant to the needs of the people for it to appeal widely,” he noted.

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