BDP rejection of independent candidates not prudent


Political analysts say the stance against accepting independent candidates who left the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) before the 2014 general elections, may prove counter-productive.

Prior to the October elections, the ruling party was thrown into deep turmoil as many members trooped out of to contest the elections as independent candidates.

The trend according to political observers reflected deep divisions within the ruling BDP. Those who ditched the party believed that it no longer adhered to its strong ideology of fair play in the primaries. 

Those who decamped alleged cheating in the party primaries and that the leadership failed to handle their appeals professionally.

But the BDP adopted a hard line stance towards those who ditched the party to stand as mekoko, as independent candidates are popularly known.

Just recently at the BDP youth congress in Masunga, President Ian Khama reiterated the party’s stance, saying those who left to stand, as independents will never be welcomed back. He said that some who stood as independents have approached him to return but he refused to welcome them.

Interestingly, despite his defiance Khama conceded that the party needs to change the way it conducts primaries to ensure transparency and reduce room for conflict.

Even the youth wing leader Andy Boatile stated that the way the party handles its primaries need to be changed because the current system is not transparent and has led to disgruntlement.

This again suggests that the BDP knows that it is wrong.  But to Khama, it is not enough reason to pardon those who abandoned the party in the hour of need, instead dismissing them as opportunist. It is also an act of betrayal that does not deserve forgiveness according to Khama.

Key to the party decision is that welcoming back independents could affect the party’s ambitions of maintaining cohesion and discipline.

Instead Khama would rather have recruitment focus on school going future voters, who will be ready in 2019.

The president’s remarks have raised eyebrows. Firstly, the question that many pundits may ask is who needs who between Khama and those who ditched the BDP, but eager to return to the party, much to the defiance of the president?

Again is it possible and desirable for the BDP to care less about those who left to contest independently?  Some view things differently. They would say given the dire consequences the BDP suffered after losing members who left to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) in 2010, as well as those who quit to contest as independents, it is highly inevitable that the BDP perform very badly at the 2019 general elections.

Some have suggested that the BDP stance is not wise because a party cannot achieve anything without electoral support especially that the party is now facing serious competition from the opposition block.

The opposition especially the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has also been on a recruitment drive, which may suggest that it is wrong not to welcome those who left to contest solo.

Academic, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale argues that the BDP leadership should change its hard line stance towards independents.

 “Members left for various reasons and my belief is that to lose one member is too much. The BDP stands to lose on account of additional numerical strength that the returning members will provide. It needs the numbers, after all,” he said.

Botlhale added, “Therefore, the BDP leadership, not the party leader Ian Khama per se, must be conciliatory towards those who express a desire to come back.

Maybe, they may need to be rehabilitated as and when they rejoin the BDP.”

The analyst does not necessarily believe that the BDP will maintain the stance, noting that every party needs numbers to thrive.

“They could be given a probation period when they do not stand for party positions and they may have to be rehabilitated,” he further advised.

Botlhale however agrees it was not a wise move the independent took before the elections. He said that it is often best to fight a system from within when a member is not satisfied with certain processes, so that one becomes a change agent rather than leaving the party.

He added that the party advisors should also scratch below the surface and unearth why people left. That they left is not a cause of the problem but a symptom according to the UB Professor.

“Members do not leave for no good reason. Hence, the party advisers should not get bogged down with symptoms but must look for causes of de-camping and address them,” he said. 

Another political analyst Ndulamo Morima agrees that BDP move to not welcome those who left party is not prudent.

“In politics there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies. Again I do not blame those who left to stand as independents because any politician will do what will work for him to win elections. Even those who are shunning those who decamped they cannot say that they have never taken a decision solely based on their interest instead of the party,” Morima said.

Morima noted that the BDP primaries were riddled with errors, something that could have motivated some members who felt cheated to leave. In addition he also believe that the ruling party fortunes are waning and therefore BDP needs not reject but attract members.

“The BDP need numbers more than ever because the party’s victory in 2019 is in serious doubt,” Morima said.

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