The unpredictability of the 2019 general elections lived to its billing.
Big names within the political landscape could not retain their constituencies. A lot is usually said about candidates in the build-up to elections. But little about what happens when candidates lose their seats is said.
Departure is not at all straightforward. It is devastating, and kept private.
In a matter of a few weeks, losing candidates will to their own great surprise see strength returning. Losing hit them hard that some would have been excused for thinking they might never recover. Life has a way of going on.
The day the final result was announced remains the worst memory for now. That agony began whilst awaiting the first count. Endless knots tied up in the stomachs of eventual losers, the final outcome the knockout punch that floored them. Defeat is always shockingly unexpected.
‘Pono Moatlhodi, 8, 000 and something votes’ rings the voice of the returning officer. In the delivery of this bombshell, Thapelo Olopeng would not have caught how much this “something votes’ was.
It didn’t matter. What mattered was how the same feeling compared to other losing candidates – a feeling of power leaving the body.
That single pronouncement does more damage than any other aspect of seeking election. In Olopeng’s case, more was at stake. First was a genuine loss of a decade’s long friendship with former President Ian Khama.
Pre-election commentary has noted how Olopeng chose the BDP in its entirety and ditching any known association with Khama.
The loss at this polls must have feel like a gunshot fired in anger. Khama has been to Olopeng a pillar of strength and a support base upon which the initial victorious assault for office was launched from.
Five years later, Khama was the architect who masterminded the demise of his erstwhile buddy.
Electoral defeat is sudden death. Of course, as a candidate facing months of intense campaigning, it is extraordinarily difficult even to countenance the possibility of losing.
Moiseraele Goya and Phillip Makgalemele must have clung on to desperate hope that the BPF tide could be held at bay. Then there is physical pain that follows grief.
It is unbearable pain. With electoral loss, nobody would have died but grief stricken will be all losers. No one ever imagines the physical trauma and the severe effect such failure has on losing candidates. At best it compares to being thrown out of a moving train.
What follows is a dull ache of the heart. All a losing candidate wants is a hole to bury themselves in to keep the rest of the world out. Falling into a fit of paralysis in the advent of social media is the preceptor to one question. What just happened – uttered with a few expletives.
Besides the obvious – which was arriving to much fanfare and leaving seamlessly as if seas have parted – no one can tell readily what doom looks like. Few people have words for a loser.
At that moment it feels like history evaporates instantly. Then comes the period of shame compounded further by glances of sorrow. Even political allies vanish.
All those defeated – exhausted and run ragged by the campaign – have to portray a grim determination to keep themselves together for cameras.
Inside will be pieces smashed by the agonising defeat, but having the incredible difficulty to find emotional strength for the flashlights. In a moment of bravado that masks an array of turbulent emotions: shock, hurt, devastation, guilt, betrayal, failure and shame; a loser has to contend with ‘ke amogela maduo´. How insensitive?
Defeat for a politician means losing a job, social standing and a structured life. Pay cheques stop therein with housing needs for the brand new lot forcing losers to move out fast. For ministers, there is also a small matter of shutting two offices – ministerial and parliamentary – with some paperwork due for archiving or shredding.
Bagalatia Arone knows the experience of halting a train on full blast against one’s will. Even though all MPs will eventually leave politics, being unprepared for a sudden loss can pose serious long term challenges.
It is debilitating and no amount of feigning normalcy compensates for the burrow pit that one finds themselves in. A common regret amongst many is not having an exit strategy.
It is common for some to master enough strength to want to answer about what happened. Defeated politicians are no longer relevant to any political debate.
Their deeply cherished values and beliefs seem to have no place. Dorcas Makgato and Olopeng have fallen into the trap of wanting to re-invent post trauma relevance.
By some means it would appear they feel the need to account to followers on social media. The reality though is there are no fingers of recrimination pointed in their way.
It will take time for losers to reconcile this democratic conundrum – that the electorate can and should kick politicians out of office, in the process experience rejection by electorate with which they shared a strong bond. Such an experience is dislocating, devastating and personally crushing even in the long term.
To add insult to injury, losing candidates receive little acknowledgement of their contribution from their political parties.
The current crop of returning specially elected MPs cannot point to any skill that influenced their retention, strengthening the point that former politicians seem to disappear.
In that state of daze and defeat, a losing politician enters the world in which their identity and place is uncertain. With their confidence dented and uncertain of what skills they could offer potential employers, the defeated politician has to construct a new narrative about who they are. This character building experience has lessons to strengthen one’s mettle.
If the transition from political office could be made less fraught, a lot of knowledge and experience could be put to good use.
How politicians gain office, their experience in office, and how they exit office all contribute to a fluidity between the elected and the electorate. That is essential to a healthy democracy.
One cannot mourn forever.
Life is good, life will be good.