After losing Bophirima ward by-election to the Umbrella for Democratic Chance (UDC), a party it is affiliated to, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) has revealed its next move will depend on how the issues of the constitution, democracy and governance are handled at the UDC and within the broader opposition cooperation talks.
Speaking to Mmegi in an interview, BCP spokesperson Mpho Pheko admitted that the issues that got BCP to contest Bophirima in its own name, colors and symbol remain unresolved at the UDC.
Last month the BCP secretary-general (SG) Goretetse Kekgonegilemade made it clear during a media brief that contesting outside the umbrella doesn’t mean the party is leaving the coalition. Asked whether the BCP still stands by that decision post Bophirima, Pheko affirmed that the position as communicated by the SG stands.
“The decision to leave the UDC can be made only by a national conference. Between conferences, the central committee is mandated to make decisions in the best interest of the party, as it did on Bophirima. The central committee’s decision on Bophirima did not vary the Conference Resolution on joining the UDC. The party goes to Conference in July 2022. Members will have an opportunity to weigh-in on the situation in the UDC and the opposition in general and give direction,” she further revealed.
Pheko didn’t outright dismiss the possible formation of another coalition with AP. She said what happened between the BCP and the AP at Bophirima was spontaneous. She stated she will be surprised and disappointed if this potentially very productive relationship does not assume a life of its own post Bophirima. “It came about naturally, thanks to our shared commitment to constitutionalism, democracy and clean, ethical and competent government, and our common aversion for dictatorship and unilateralism. That said, what ultimately happens between the BCP and AP will depend on our respective National Conferences,” she highlighted.
Pheko also said even though the BCP lost the election, as a party it is excited by the many positives they took from the by-election, chiefly the organic evolution of a beautiful working relationship with the AP. She said the BCP is excited by the near-perfect alignment of the two parties on values and principles. “We are confident that our (BCP and AP) approach to matters of governance is what this country needs”, she said.
Although the BCP previously lambasted UDC president, Duma Boko in a statement saying he had spurned all efforts to convene a NEC meeting to discuss the Bophirima ward, Pheko indicated that this will not determine how the BCP engages with Boko from here onwards.
She despite everything the BCP is still a member of UDC and they will attend NEC meetings. “We will continue to press for the UDC to respect its constitution, democracy and good governance. I will say, without fear of equivocation, that these are deal breakers for us because to compromise on these is to lose who we are and to betray the nation'', she said..
Pheko pointed out that no party that does not respect its own constitution, democracy and basic principles of governance should be trusted with state power adding that the UDC has to reform, or risk falling short once again.
Pheko, who was UDC’s candidate for Gaborone Central in the 2019 general elections said her while comrades in the UDC are excited about winning state power and they seldom pause to reflect on the responsibility it entails and what it demands of them. “Africa is littered with failing states led by erstwhile liberation movements. We cannot hope to control a leader in government when we could not do so at the party level. No! UDC has a duty to run its affairs as it promises to govern”.
She said AP leader Ndaba Gaolathe said years back that they do not have to seek to destroy the BDP because the latter will self destruct. “Our duty, he said, is to prepare to govern competently when that moment arrives. This is exactly how the BCP understands its duty to society,” she recalled. Besides the obvious reason that the opposition was not united coming into this past Bophirima election, BCP chose not to attribute its loss to anyone though the fact is that some BCP MPs were reported to have refused to help the party campaign.
“We will not speculate about reasons for our loss. Nor will we give excuses. The BNF won. We are a learning party. As is the tradition in our party, we will formally evaluate our performance in Bophirima, learn the lessons we should learn, and turn our attention to the future. We are unfazed by the result,” Pheko cleared the air on the issue.
In terms of taking action against defiant MPs, Pheko said the party will not take action against the MPs because no democratic party will take action against a member for following his or her conscience in what is a manifestly difficult decision. “It would be a different matter if any of our MPs campaigned against the party. Sure, we were shocked by the media statements attributed to some of our MPs and the social media posts of one or two, but we have seen nothing that merits disciplinary action. We have accepted the results and have congratulated the winners,” she further stated. After finally congratulating Manki Sekete of the UDC on her victory, BCP President Saleshando stated that for the opposition to truly assert its claim as the vehicle for authentic change, they have to demonstrate total commitment to the values they promise to advance should they be voted to lead the nation. He said if the UDC displays lack of commitment to internal democracy, respect for their constitution and condone unilateral decision making, then it will lose the moral authority to demand for change.
“Special thanks to the AP who stood by our side as we voiced the issues that matter most to building the credibility of the opposition. In a period of three weeks, we mounted a campaign that persuaded 29% of the voters to cast a vote that demands for the opposition collective to reform and practice what we preach. The UDC with 41% of the votes needs to reflect as we engage on the best way to prepare for the 2024 elections. We remain committed to engaging all the opposition parties on cooperation for 2024 and hope that Bophirima has provided some lessons that will enrich the engagements,” Saleshando wrote on Facebook.