Mmegi Blogs :: Khama hates the opposition
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Friday 15 December 2017, 17:56 pm.
Khama hates the opposition

Harry S. Truman was right in observing that “once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
By Dithapelo Keorapetse Fri 16 Dec 2016, 16:48 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Khama hates the opposition

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent Batswana well and provide effective oversight on the government and the ruling party. In Parliament, the speakership is biased against the opposition; rules of order and procedure are applied selectively to prejudice the opposition and to favour the ruling party. In some cases the Speaker joins the debate by intervening on behalf of the ruling party. Some rulings by the Speaker are clearly arbitrary, irrational and unlawful. If it was elsewhere where there is strong well-resourced opposition and civil society, the Speaker would have been sued numerous times. Unlike the biographer of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who in recognition of free speech said “ I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, the Speaker is incompetent to defend and guarantee free speech of opposition MPs.

Freedom of expression is limited in the House. Standing Order 23.2 provides that “the name of the President shall not be used disrespectfully during the debate”. The speakership’s interpretation of this provision is that certain adverse opinions cannot be held and expressed about the President.  This is clearly ultra vires Section 12 of the Constitution which grants freedom of expression including the freedom to hold opinions. Expressions like “the government is ruled by thieves” or that “the leaders are corrupt” are effectively outlawed. If it is the opinion of an MP that the ruling party distributes public offices as patronage to reward loyalist and that the system is political corruption, hence corrupt leaders, it would take intense persuasion and arguments for that to go into the records of Parliament. The Speaker cannot compel Ministers to answer questions, if a Minister chooses not to provide adequate information, become evasive or mislead Parliament, the Speaker would become complicit and abet this misdemeanour.

Too many walls instead of bridges are continuously constructed by the President, his government and party to segregate the opposition. The opposition has been effectively banned from the state media. When the President or Minister Finance and Economic Development address Parliament, the state media broadcast proceedings live on TV and radio but when the Leader of opposition and the Leader of the Minority Opposition address the House they are not covered by the state media in a live broadcast. The BTV political magazine programme Matlhoaphage which provided a platform for debates has been killed. The opposition parties’ activities are seldom covered by BTV, Radio Botswana and the Daily News. The principle of right of reply are violated with impunity at the mass media complex, Batswana are sometimes bombarded with government rebuttals of opposition statements they have never heard about. As a result the opposition has grown angry and frustrated.

The state media should provide a platform for debate and presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions. The presentation of state propaganda as news items is unacceptable and is detrimental to


liberal democratic values. The opposition must be able to access information contained in government records to enhance its ability to meaningfully contribute to the national debates and to make informed position statements on policies. This calls for enactment of Freedom of Information Act and whistle blowing legislation.

Many wonder why this is happening, especially now. It is simple, it is a reflection of how the President perceives the opposition and how he wants it to be treated. He hates the opposition! The environment has become so toxic that if you are or have been associated with the opposition, it is difficult to hold a senior position of judgeship, ambassador, permanent secretary or CEO or board member of a parastatal.

It is important that the government recognises opposition political parties as legitimate players and political opposition as a fundamental component of the country’s democratic dispensation, especially that now it represents the majority of the people having won 53.7% of the popular vote in 2014. In playing their role, the opposition ought to have clear rights and responsibilities.

The rights of the opposition have to be protected to ensure sustenance of a liberal democratic polity. According to Ian Shapiro, “democracy is an ideology of opposition as much as it is one of government”. British MP Quintin Hogg once remarked that “countries cannot be fully free until they have an organised opposition. It is not a long step from the absence on an organised opposition to a complete dictatorship”. Therefore, upholding and fostering liberal democracy (with its core tenets of universal suffrage, pluralism, accountability and transparency, responsiveness, participation etc.) is a shared responsibility between government and the opposition.

Opposition parties express the views of the electorates and protect various groups and other interests not represented in government. They hold the executive accountable; compel ministers and top bureaucrats to answer to the public on the disposal of their powers and duties and to act upon criticism or requirements made of them and accept responsibility for failure, incompetence, or blunders. osition has the responsibility to be fair and rational in their criticism of government or the ruling party. It has done this very well, it has defended the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country and has desisted from actions that have the potential to undermine unity and democratic stability of the country. They are in part the reason why there is peace and stability in the country. The opposition has recognised that it has a responsibility to protect, defend and uphold principles of constitutionalism, the rule of law and the peace and stability of the nation.

Lest we forget that the Botswana Defence Force, the IEC, DCEC, Ombudsman, extension of suffrage to 18 year olds, Old Age Pension, amendment of Section 77, 78 and 79 of the constitution for purposes of tribal neutrality, exemption of VAT from basic food items and Legal aid among many other things are original ideas of the opposition.


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