Trying times for political parties


With only a few months before the country goes to the polls, Botswana’s political parties are yet to start their campaigns in earnest with the majority of them gripped by political brouhaha that continues to steal peace from their ranks. Mmegi Staff Writers RYDER GABATHUSE & LEBOGANG MOSIKARE report that in the exception of the new-kid-on-the-political-block, Alliance for Progressives (AP), older parties, ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), tri-party coalition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and its former partner Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), have lately been grappling with factionalism

FRANCISTOWN: Interestingly, all the parties have held their primary elections last year ahead of time in an endeavour to have sufficient time to lead their campaigns ahead of the General Election. In Botswana’s political system, it is the state President who issues a writ of the general elections and that means he is the custodian of the date of the elections.

Although the President leads his party in contesting for the elections, he and his party are advantaged in knowing at least when such elections will be held.

Unfortunately, the ruling BDP’s preparations for the 2019 general election is mired in controversy as for the first time in about 53 years, the BDP goes to the polls with someone having declared to challenge the sitting party and state President. This is simply a first credible challenge with President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi was recently fired from her Cabinet post after officially declaring through the party structures that she was available to challenge Masisi as the party President.

It is apparent that her desire to throw her hat in the ring was buoyed by the backing of the emerging so-called New Jerusalem axis, which has the blessing of the former president, Ian Khama.

Khama has been at odds with the current administration over a plethora of issues to the extent that Khama the mentor has literally fallen off with his former sidekick, Masisi. So, the BDP’s valuable time is literally divided between dealing with factional matters and leading the party campaign.

The situation is not helped by the BDP’s dwindling fortunes as its popular vote has fallen to below 50% in the 2014 general elections. 

Whilst the pro-Masisi faction is battling to undo the 2014 fallen Khama-led record, the Khama-patronised New Jerusalem axis is likely to reduce the strength of the BDP, which has dominated the elections since 1965.

Odds are literally stacked against the BDP and the party leadership will have to be smart enough to beat the odds and well in time to lead a healthy and rewarding campaign.

Late last year, in a party press conference, BDP secretary general, Mpho Balopi was outright that the BDP was set to curb indiscipline within its ranks by taking pertinent action against its errant members.

“It’s true the party will be taking action against members who are going against the general code of conduct of the party.  The party President has made it clear at the central committee meeting that he cannot lead a party that has undisciplined members.

The members have been warned through regional meetings that the President held, but they do not want to listen,” Balopi had told Mmegi in  an earlier interview. His comments are of a worried leader whose party progress is stagnated by indiscipline within its ranks.

In the same interview, Balopi was even worried by the reality that, “new members cannot be attracted to a party that has lots of undisciplined members as they are attracted to where there is respect of the law”.

Efforts to check on the party’s readiness for the general elections to be held later this year could not bear fruits as Balopi did not pick his mobile phone nor respond to questions sent to him through his short message service (SMS).

Main opposition, UDC is currently facing litigation after its expelled member BMD took it to court for unfair dismissal amongst other things.

This is not going to be an easy case given the dynamics of the matter.

The case may not only stall progress in the tri-party united opposition bloc.  It may also affect its members the Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP), especially relating to the sharing of constituencies, which have been problematic and affecting its ability to attract new members.

Depending on issues on the table, this matter may discredit the standing of the tri-party UDC as it canvasses for support and it may reverse the gains of the UDC in the process.

The spokesperson of the UDC Moeti Mohwasa has revealed that despite challenges affecting parties under the aegis of the umbrella, the UDC is a well-oiled machine that will assume the levers of power after the elections in October.

Of the arguably most notable challenge that is currently besieging the UDC is the court case that was launched by the BMD against UDC following the former’s expulsion from the umbrella towards the end of last year.

The case has created a lot of uncertainty in the minds of voters. Some people are even of the view that it will burst the UDC asunder and render it unappealing to voters with the elections just nine months down the horizon.  Added Mohwasa: “We have done nothing wrong by expelling the BMD from the UDC. We will vigorously defend the lawsuit that was instituted by the BMD against the UDC.

The Chief Justice has already allocated the case to a bench of three judges.  This is a very important case that involves voters and we hope that the courts will dispense with it very quickly in the interests of voters to clear any doubts surrounding it.”

He also stated that the UDC would meet very soon and roll out its programme of action for 2019.

The programme of action, Mohwasa noted, is geared towards ousting the BDP from power it assumed since the country’s first general election in 1965. AP secretary general Phenyo Butale was this week elated that his party was more than ready for the elections.

“We have been conducting workshops for our candidates as we want them to internalise what we stand for as a party. As a party, we are distinctively different from other parties,” he emphasised, adding that the AP wants a new Botswana. During the first registration for the general election last year, the AP teams were on the ground assisting people to register. The AP’s preoccupation now is preparations for the general elections and they are doing that very well.

“As a party, we are different from our competition as there are political fires raging in the BDP, UDC and BMD.”

The noble idea of the AP is to turn the party into a paragon of nation building and prosperity. The leadership of the party describes the AP as a solutions-based party that has steps to take it there. Butale acknowledged that the UDC has written to them proposing a working relationship at a time when the UDC has a court matter to contend with. He promised that the party structures will deal with the UDC proposal stressing, “our commitment to opposition unity is unwavering”. A political science lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB) Leonard Sesa said that it is probably a first in the political history of Botswana that both the BDP and opposition parties are heading towards the general elections afflicted by a myriad of problems.

He stated that the unsolved court cases launched by disgruntled BDP primary elections losers and a case in which the legitimacy of President Masisi is questioned as the bona fide president of the party in court coupled with the emergence of a new BDP faction called New Jerusalem has the potential to further reverse the fortunes of the party during the upcoming general elections. 

Sesa, however, said that the BDP might survive the opposition onslaught by the skin of its teeth because “the UDC (which was joined by the BCP last year) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) will never unite following their famous public spats that ensued after the AP left the umbrella movement”.

The AP is a splinter party of the BMD that was formed in the aftermath of the infamous BMD elective congress that was held in Bobonong.

Sesa analysed: “It is a non-starter to think that the UDC and AP will work together as a united force to remove the BDP from power following their bitter public fights.

Those acerbic public fights will render the UDC and AP unable to work together no matter how hard they may try to strike a possible working arrangement”.

He added: “If all opposition parties in Botswana were to unite, there is a very high possibility that they may dethrone the BDP from power. But if they are disjointed like currently, their dream to topple the BDP is just a pie in the sky”.

He also noted that both the BDP and opposition parties should boldly tell Batswana that they are engulfed by challenges of gargantuan proportions.

The UB political scientist explained that the parties should do so in a bid to encourage potential voters to register en masse during the ongoing voters supplementary registration exercise and not just save face.

“It is high time that all the political formations in the country categorically tell the voters their current problems for transparency purposes in order to encourage them to register for elections,” he noted.

The UB don also stated that of all political parties in Botswana, the new kid on the political block, AP may look stable, but it would not make any significant impact in the next general elections if it goes it alone.

Sesa is also of the view that the impasse rocking the UDC and BMD may alienate the AP further from the UDC and even make it more reluctant to join the UDC with its current problems.

He added that if this scenario were to happen, it would spell doom for the UDC’s endeavour to unite all opposition parties in Botswana and topple the BDP from power a tall order. 

Efforts to solicit comments from the BMD secretary general Gilbert Mangole were fruitless at press time.

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