FRANCISTOWN: The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) became the busiest party in the country this week as it prepares for the impending bruising primaries in the opposition held constituencies.
The BDP secretariat has been busy taking party officials through the processes of conducting primaries so that on January 20, it will be all systems go. The party’s communications and international relations subcommittee chairperson, Thapelo Pabalinga says all is on track.
“Our preparations have been above board. Due process has been followed with regards to the preparations of the primaries. We are confident that they will go on with minimal complaints,” he told Mmegi.
This first stage of the strategy to win all the 18 opposition held constituencies is known as Bulela Ditswe stream A.
Traditionally, the aftermath of the BDP primaries is characterised by severe infighting and unrest with results being disputed in some instances. Some democrats have even in the past quit the party and stood as independent candidates as a result of differences surrounding activities of the primaries.
Holding primaries early in opposition held constituencies is intended to attend to disgruntlement well ahead of the general elections next year.
However, there are some in the BDP opposed to primary elections, who argue that no matter how early they are held, there is still a recipe for unrest and in most cases lead to the party instability and losses.
Although the outcomes of the BDP primaries cannot be predicted with any accuracy, there is already proof that in some constituencies, the next weekend primary elections might mark the start of acrimony within the rank and file of the BDP.
One factor that may spark infighting at the primaries is the growing feeling that Vice President (VP) Mokgweetsi Masisi has his own preferred candidates. Infact, the team that will be conducting the primaries next week reports show will chiefly consists of Masisi loyalists.
Although Pabalinga has insisted that it will be all systems go, on the contrary reports coming from some of the constituencies show that the dominant Masisi team has taken up the responsibility to run the show sidelining members of the marginal Nonofo Molefhi faction.
Should Masisi’s perceived allies win, it is possible to imagine a situation where some party operatives might challenge the results.
They will base their reasoning on the premise that as a high-ranking figure in the party, Masisi should be an unbiased umpire
As a result Masisi’s alleged association with some primary elections candidates may bring an ill feeling within the party.
The Masisi and Molefhi factor might also rekindle the rivalry amongst BDP members at the primaries.
The party has just emerged from one of its hotly contested elective congress in which Masisi defeated Cabinet minister Molefhi for the position of party chairperson. Masisi’s team won all positions on offer at the congress.
Masisi’s team currently man the BDP secretariat, which is tasked with coordinating the primaries.
There is fear that the team might manipulate procedures and make sure that the atmosphere at the primaries is tilted towards those affiliated to Masisi.
Based on the history of the BDP, where a faction that is in charge of the party secretariat, presiding officers may be accused of manipulating records in a bid to sabotage those from opposing factions.
The crowded field of candidates in some areas may also further fuel disarray within the ruling party. In constituencies like Mogoditshane, there are five candidates vying for the area, which might end without peace after the primaries. The candidates include Baolwetse Otisitswe, Tshepang Mabaila, Patrick Masimolole and Kgang Kgang.
Gabane-Mmankgodi will see four candidates vying for the party ticket. They are Kagiso Mmusi, Phillip Mokento, Pius Ntwaagae and Joseph Makati.
Even party officials have often conceded that the high number of primary election candidates is one of the reasons the party has at times fared badly in some areas during the general and by-elections respectively.
Eight of the 18 constituencies under contest have settled for consensus candidates. There are eight unopposed candidates at Kanye South, Gaborone North, Goodhope-Mabule, Maun West, Gaborone Central, Selebi-Phikwe West, Bonnington North and Tlokweng.
But over 36 candidates will contest in the 10 remaining opposition held constituencies. This makes it a very crowded affair.
Based on past dynamics having crowded constituencies may fuel rivalry amongst party members. Just like in the past, the party might even struggle to effectively diffuse the tension emanating from protest linked to the primaries.
Pabalinga is however at ease and is convinced that the party primaries next week will be peaceful and will be the beginning of a smooth journey to 2019.