FRANCISTOWN: Political analyst, Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao has posited that a total merger of opposition parties within the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will always remain an illusion.
At the core, he argued, are the historical differences between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana National Front (BNF).
The two parties are, arguably the largest and perceived to be the most influential in the UDC. The Botswana People’s Party (BPP) is another partner in the UDC, but appears to have peripheral role.
When the BCP was triumphantly welcomed into the UDC, the move was viewed as one of the major outcomes of a series of opposition attempts to unify, to work together in a unified manner in a bid to unseat the ruling BDP from power. However, Lotshwao observed that the recent intense feuding in the UDC, particularly between the BCP and the BNF, once again highlighted a fundamental problem that has plagued the two parties for years: their failure to embrace unity or resolving differences in a cordial manner. The members of the two parties recently exchanged verbal ballistic missiles laced with expletives in the social media. The spark was a proposal of all UDC parties. BCP activists put forth the proposal. As part of the merger, the BCP proposed that the Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front be fully amalgamated into the UDC.
The BCP reasoned that such a move would strengthen the UDC. The lime movement, as the BCP is known by its supporters, believe the results of the 2019 general election were a major lesson that opposition parties should merge to avoid vote splitting.
Even the BCP president, Dumelang Saleshando, who is also the vice president of the UDC, is a convert to such a notion.
He however, pointed out that all parties in the UDC have to have a debate at the highest level over the possibility of merging. Saleshando and other BCP members believe that the UDC will be rewarded with victory at the 2024 general polls if parties within the coalition fully merged.
“The last national UDC conference held on the eve of elections proposed that after the 2019 general election, UDC should consider a more cohesive form of cooperation. The proposal was simply for the loose coalition of cooperating parties to merge. It was an innocent proposal from delegates that we consider a more permanent union that guarantees operational efficiency,” he said.
The BNF executive has not reacted to calls for a merger, but its activists have been unrelenting in their opposition to the matter on social media. Prominent BNF activists, including Arafat Khan of Fear Fokol fame, have even said that those who are pushing for
Instead of merging, some BNF members believe that the UDC needs to push for a fundamental restructuring of its existing agreement, which includes both renegotiating constituencies and some policies, then focus on boosting momentum for the 2024 general elections.
In the wake of the feuding in the UDC, Lotshwao, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Botswana yesterday pointed at the impossibility of a full merger, owing to historical differences between the BNF and the BCP, the key partners in the coalition.
“Although the two parties worked together under the UDC during the 2019 general election, there is mistrust between the two, owing largely to the events of 1998,” he said, recalling the split of the BNF that gave birth to the BCP in Palapye.
“There are also ideological differences between the two. For instance, the true BNF does not subscribe to the free market system and unregulated capitalism that the BCP champions.
Before these issues and differences are resolved, a total merger wound be a ticking bomb,” Lotshwao warned. Lotshwao highlighted that he does not see any commitment from the BNF and BCP to overcome ideological differences and mistrust amongst them, which is why he does not see the UDC partners merging into one movement anytime soon.
He added that frequent feuding amongst the opposition does not bode well for them, and this might lead to significant continued loss for the parties of public support towards the coalition.
“There is indeed a lot of work to be done if the UDC is to strongly challenge for power in 2024. In addition, besides resolving the differences between its main members, there is need for the coalition to conduct itself like an alternative to the BDP.
“In 2019 for example, the UDC accused the BDP of selling the country and its economy to foreigners. Yet, on the other hand, the UDC itself saw no problem aligning with a foreign sponsor. Hypocrisy will not help UDC win power; it will just damage its credibility like it did in the last elections,” he said.
Lotshwao also said he was of the view that the BCP’s desire for a merger was not born out of sincerity.
“The BCP’s push for merger could be self-serving. With many MPs, the BCP assumes it will take over the leadership of the UDC through a merger.”