FRANCISTOWN: A new fault line has opened between one affiliate of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). In 2020, the UDC which is made up of Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana People’s Party (BPP), entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with its erstwhile partner, Alliance for Progressives (AP) before the BCP joined the UDC, and BPF to cooperate in all future by-elections.
When the MoU was signed, the parties were cognisant of the spirit and purpose of the agreement was/is to ensure electoral gains, success and victory in any by-election, each of the contracting parties is enjoined both in the selection of candidates and the mounting of the campaigns to uphold this spirit. It further states that the contracting parties recognise that continuing cooperation in all by-elections will strengthen their commitment to party-to-party- relationships and working to increase the understanding of Batswana about social, economic and political problems confronting Botswana. The UDC, AP and BPF therefore, made a commitment that between the years 2020 and the next general election in 2024, where a by-election (may it be local or parliamentary) is to be held, the contracting parties shall not contest against each other.
The determination as to which of the contracting parties contests any by-election shall be based on the following: in the order in which they appear: (i) whether the contracting party had won the said vacant seat in the 2019 general election or nay subsequent election thereto, (ii) whether the contracting party had attained 75% or more of the number of votes attained by the winning candidates in the vacant position who had represented a political party that is not a signatory to this agreement, and where one of the contracting parties has obtained this threshold, that party shall contest on behalf of the contracting parties, (iii) where one of the above applies, then the determination shall be made by the By-elections Joint Committee (JoC) established in terms of this agreement in the consultation with the local structures, says the MoU. “Any party dissatisfied with the decision of the by-elections Joint Committee (JoC) shall, within 48 hours of the delivery of the decision of the by-elections JoC, lodge its appeal with the Contracting Parties Leaders Forum (CPLF), which is composed of presidents of the contracting parties, whose decision shall be final...” further states the MoU. During the 2019 general election, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won the Lorolwane ward with 591 votes followed by the UDC, BPF and an independent candidate with 275, 148 and 30 votes respectively. The combined votes of the UDC and BPF in the ward during the 2019 elections was 423 minus the votes attained by the independent candidate but could be 453 if the votes of the independent candidate are factored in.
Had all things remained constant, notwithstanding the fact that the numbers will surely depreciate because of a number of factors such as the death of some voters and voter apathy which is commonplace during by-elections amongst others, the margin between the BDP and the opposition would be 138. Taking into consideration the combined votes of the opposition plus the independent candidate, popularly known as mokoko (singular) or mekoko (plural) in the vernacular, one will not be off the mark to suggest that the ward was ripe for an opposition taking during the upcoming by-elections. This is however, not cast in stone. The history of politics in Botswana is replete with examples of local and parliamentary candidates who prevailed during the general elections with huge margins especially at parliamentary level only to lose during the next general elections when the general public and even political analysts least expected.
However, in a political fight that may further complicate the contracting parties’ efforts to win the upcoming by-elections billed for December 18 in 2021 and also complicate their efforts to forge a strong united front ahead of the anticipated make or break general elections in 2024, the BCP and BPF have each fielded a candidate to contest in the upcoming by-election at Lorolwane ward. Asked about how the preparations of the contracting parties are going, former Gaborone Central legislator, Phenyo Butale, who is also the chairperson of the JoC, said the preparations are going at full steam. “The contracting parties have already launched candidates in some areas where by-elections will be held. We will launch our remaining candidates in due course and we are very optimistic that we will be victorious in all the wards,” said an optimistic Butale.
Even if Butale is hopeful and confident of victory when the results of the by-elections are publicly pronounced by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), political dynamics on the ground show that there is still no silver bullet since the signing of the MoU amongst the contracting parties. This is more so that at Lorolwane where fault lines are already bringing confusion and distrust amongst the contracting parties and general public. It is a given that the implications of the battle for the heart and soul of Lorolwane has far reaching complications at local and national levels. One will not be off the mark to suggest that the BDP will enter the fray and use the stalemate between the BCP and BPF as political fodder. Quizzed about the standoff between the BCP and BPF at Lorolwane, Butale said: “We regret the fact that the BCP and BPF will be facing each other at Lorolwane.
This disagreement was partly caused by the limited time we had to complete consultations between the contracting parties and the looming by-elections. We however choose to look at the positives looking at the fact that in the overwhelming majority of wards, there won’t be any competition amongst opposition parties.
This is a very strong foundation towards the 2024 general elections.” Admitting that cooperation talks or agreements are fraught with many sticking points, Butale added: “Opposition unity cannot be an event but is a journey and we are celebrating the gains made thus far which lay a very strong foundation towards the 2024 general elections.” Asked about what the opposition will be campaigning on during the by-elections, Butale said: “Our politics are solution based. Currently, we are ruled by a regime that has no direction.
So we will be focusing on providing an alternative vision for the country and practical solutions to challenges besieging Batswana in all areas where the by-elections will be held.” A lecturer in politics and administrative studies at the University of Botswana (UB) was quoted in the Midweek Sun saying, “national and not local politics will play a significant influence over the results of the upcoming by-elections”.