A frustrating moment for the royal blue movement

UDC supporters during the anticorruption match led by their part leaders in Maun PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
UDC supporters during the anticorruption match led by their part leaders in Maun PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG

Whilst the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is busy courting other opposition parties-Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) through the recently launched coalition talks to widen opposition unity-there are still hurdles the UDC has to overcome. Chief on the list is the delayed registration of the amended and all-inclusive UDC constitution. Mmegi Scribe RYDER GABATHUSE follows the story

FRANCISTOWN: The Registrar of Societies rejected the registration of the inclusive and amended UDC constitution two years ago due to some alleged technicalities.

However, information emanating from the UDC insiders is that the Registrar would later okay the disputed constitution. Unfortunately, the constitution still had gaps that seemingly frustrated some parties contracted to the unity project.

The UDC constitution was apparently rejected two years ago after two warring UDC parties, one led by Advocate Duma Boko and the other by Advocate Sidney Pilane presented two separate constitutions.

Reports then showed that the constitution submitted to the Registrar of Societies, Davids Okello-Wengi caused divisions between the contracted parties.

These were BCP and BNF on one side, and the BPP and BMD on the other. The Registrar’s main contention was that, “the UDC was not a political party but a cooperation agreement by the contracted parties.”

Commentators are adamant that a constitution is important to the life of any organisation. It’s a blueprint that sets the fundamental principles and rules governing an organisation.

As the UDC, also known as the blue movement hosts more opposition parties with a view to cooperating with them, it will be more important than ever for the UDC to be transparent enough to present an all-inclusive constitution that potentially provides for all and sundry.

Political parties like any existing organisation therefore, need to have constitutions to provide a legal framework for their operations and functioning.  As they say, a political party is as good as its constitution.

Listening to the voice of an insider this week bemoaning the challenges faced by the UDC, a coalition of tri-party partners, Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana peoples Party (BPP) post 2019 general election, it makes sense for the party to move faster to put its house in order.

“A lot of structures provided for in the current constitution are not in operation,” lamented a senior member of the UDC, a party whose political position is centre-left with a leaning towards social democracy.

Added a no-nonsense politician who pleaded anonymity: “ The UDC is presently under a state of emergency of some sort, until the next elective congress which will usher in a new elected leadership as opposed to the current situation where parties simply nominated party representatives to sit in the national executive committee of the UDC.” He was particularly worried that in the current constitution, which is yet to be amended to suit the prevailing circumstances, “no party is mentioned by name as belonging to the UDC.”

On the other hand, he had unkind words for the BPP, which he ridiculed for basking in a false glory.

 “ The BPP’s biggest objection is that it’s uneasy that the coalition partners could hold elections for UDC office bearers. Their (BPP) objection is that any elections no matter how legitimate they could be, it might annihilate them because of their inferior numbers.”

The BPP does not have requisite numbers that could match both the BCP and the BNF in an individual party contest to enable them to contest for UDC leadership pound for pound.

Perhaps, in support of the alleged BPP fear for a leadership contest, party president and chairperson of the UDC, Motlatsi Molapise this week conceded that there was no need for the UDC to hold leadership contest as the current arrangement in the working constitution directs. Molapise was emphatic that the current UDC is just a unified organisation.

“There is no need to hold leadership elections. After we have totally united, that’s when we can lobby for a single party,” said the veteran opposition politician.

Molapise added: “UDC should have individual members who can go to a party conference/congress to elect its leadership.” As it stands now, Molapise indicated that, it’s only individual member parties that can elect party members to represent them at the UDC NEC. Although there is a provision in the UDC constitution for individual persons applying directly to become UDC members, there is a worry that at UDC conferences it is individual parties and not persons who are eligible to attend.

Equally, an insider has raised fears that individual persons joining UDC directly might find themselves having difficulties becoming UDC candidates because currently constituencies are allocated to contracted parties and not individual persons.

University of Botswana (UB) lecturer in politics and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi described a constitution as a social contract between the governing and the governed; leaders and people/members.

“There is need for fundamental laws to govern the structures and processes of political parties. Constitutions create structures of parties: governing and leadership structures, power and responsibilities, party organs and party disciplinary processes, and others,” the UB don posited.

He addeds: “It has come to my attention that the UDC has a codified constitution which came into effect in 2012. The 2018 debacle emanated from a revised constitution that accommodated the BCP. The Registrar of Societies was misguided to posit that the UDC was an alliance of political parties and therefore, cannot be registered as a political party.”

To him, the Registrar of Societies had acted “in contravention of the law as the UDC was already a registered political party.

“To me, this was a politically motivated decision to tarnish the image on the UDC towards the 2019 general election.”

His view was that the public service has been gradually politicised thereby undermining their oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and the rule of law.

Mfundisi was steadfast that a constitution was a social contract between the governing and the governed, leaders and people/members.

His take was that there was need for fundamental laws to govern the structures and processes of political parties.

The UB lecturer further posited that constitutions created structures of parties: governing and leadership structures, power and responsibilities, party organs and party disciplinary processes, etc.

Most importantly, Mfundisi said constitutions were important for good governance and the rule of law.

He depicted constitutions as legal documents containing fundamental principles and rules governing political entities.

“The UDC must have a working constitution that provides for the election of executive position through a competitive platform to enhance party democracy.  A constitution influences, determines and constrains what actors do and may as well shape their identities and opportunity structures,” Mfundisi encouraged

He said the general election in 2024 was far, “but preparatory steps need to be put in place now to deal with opportunities and threats that may befall the UDC. Internal democracy is an expression and manifestations of popular political participation and pluralism.” He encouraged the UDC to craft a modern and vibrant constitution that took into consideration its diversity.

His ideal constitution must be people-centered and capture the felt needs and aspirations of the members.   

UDC spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa reiterated this week that the UDC was a loose agreement of cooperating partners to contest elections as a unit. He was steadfast that, “everything is done in that spirit by the contracted parties.” Although he did not want to delve much into the alleged problems noted in the UDC constitution, he acknowledged that at some stage, the Registrar of Societies had rejected registration of the UDC constitution alleging some irregularities. “But, please note that it was the same Registrar who would later okay the registration of the disputed constitution,” Mohwasa said.

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