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Masisi between a rock and a hard place

Come April 1, 2018, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi will have to show his political mettle in choosing the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) national chairperson. Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports that Masisi might find himself caught between fighting to consolidate his political power and balancing the party’s bitter factions

FRANCISTOWN: Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s political character will be sternly tested in the appointment of the party’s chairpersonship come April 1, 2018 as he ascends to the highest office in the land, state presidency.

He is currently dabbling as Vice President and ruling BDP chairperson. 

In appointing the party chairperson, will he ignore the party predicament and choose to consolidate his power by simply appointing one of his stooges or protégés or will he perform a balancing act by roping someone in from the party’s marginal faction?

Masisi’s rise to become the fifth state President will leave the position of party chairperson vacant, as he cannot dabble anymore.

Potentially, this is a position that can unite the party or leave it disunited depending on Masisi’s choice, as he will be the appointing authority.

The BDP chairperson touches base with the masses and feels the pulse of the electorates all the time. The chairperson is actually the face of the party.

Now, the choice lies with him (Masisi) whether he wants to lead a united party or a party ripped apart by factionalism.

With the ruling BDP emerging from its Tonota elective congress with one-sided leadership last year derived from the dominant Team Masisi also known as Team Dubai, there is a need to strike a factional balance.

The instance of balancing things is not new to the BDP as even during former president Festus Mogae’s tenure, the then Barata Phathi political formation fought for inclusion in both party and government as the dominant faction had purely excluded the marginal one.

Their prayers would later be answered after heated engagements, as some of them were included in the government.

Upon ascending to the state presidency in 2008, President Ian Khama had no choice but to follow the example of his predecessor, Mogae by ensuring that upon taking over he paid attention to the party factions.

When he appointed the late Mompati Merafhe as his deputy, he chose to give the chairpersonship to veteran politician, Daniel Kwelagobe who was a known leader of the Barata Phathi faction then. Merafhe was a leader in the A-Team axis.  The gesture was well received across the BDP factional divide.

The reality is that Masisi should live up to the expectations of the party masses, especially after he and his principal, the President had pre and post the Tonota elective congress, spoken of peace and reconciliation.

As both state and party President, he has to rise above party factions and set his eyes on the entire party, as that will be his new assignment.

This is the time to be practical and demonstrate the requisite peace and reconciliation they spoke about last year. In essence, whilst Masisi has to appease members of his faction he has a bigger challenge to appease the marginal faction

to make it feel home and part of the party during these trying times.

In reality, all pointers are that Masisi should give the powerful position to the marginal faction led by Minister Nonofo Molefhi so that the party could move forward as a united force ahead of the 2019 general election.

Molefhi lost the party chairpersonship to Masisi in elections characterised by complete white wash. Even after losing, Molefhi still possesses the requisite leadership prowess to stir the BDP out of troubled waters.

Perhaps, as a sign of submission after his loss, Molefhi indicated that he was available to take whatever assignment the party will give him going forward.

In a sharp contrast to logic, Masisi seemingly believes in the political notion of the ‘winner-takes-all’ often with a body language of unwilling to yield to peoples’ pressure.

Observations are that Masisi might want to use the position of chairperson that falls vacant on April 1, 2018 in total consolidation of his power with support of his friends and cronies.

This move might prove costly to a party that is susceptible to bitter factionalism. It will not make political sense for Masisi to become too powerful with his faction in charge leaving masses from the opposite faction outside as the marginal faction might revenge and mess up where it matters the most.

Masisi will have to guard against over-confidence and yield to the reality of containing factions in a party whose fortunes have been in a downward spiral in past general elections. 

This, set against the backdrop of the opposition bloc that is talking of unity in the 2019 general elections under the guise of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

There is rather cosmetic fear that if Masisi could give the chairpersonship to Molefhi it may in future create ‘legitimate expectation’ for Molefhi who is believed to be harbouring ambitions of becoming state President.

So, the BDP chairpersonship could give the MP whose constituency is one of the marginalised a new lease on political life or impetus to recover politically.

So, there is a school of thought that by offering Molefhi the party’s powerful position it will be akin to rekindling his big dream that was done a deathblow in Tonota last year when the Selebi-Phikwe East legislator lost to the man of the moment, Masisi.

Independent political scientist, Professor Zibani Maundeni of the non-government organisation (NGO) Democracy Works, analyses that the most likely action to be taken by Masisi is to appoint his deputy to the position of party chairperson and not somebody from the marginal faction.

“I don’t see him giving the chairpersonship to anyone from the opposing faction. In the power politics, he will be consolidating his grip on power more so that he is new to these things,” noted Maundeni.

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