Party caucuses kill democracy

Party caucuses are done by both the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and opposition parties
Party caucuses are done by both the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and opposition parties

Unlike other Parliaments, which are busy advocating for their people’s needs, Botswana’s Parliament is slowly degrading and appears to be turning into a circus.

Even during the saddest time when many people are losing their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentary debates still leave a lot to be desired. In fact, Parliament has turned into a one-party show where motions are adopted purely based on party lines than merit.

The party caucuses are also contributing a lot to decisions that legislators arrive at. If any party caucus does not agree to a motion regardless of its importance, it will not see the light of the day.

On the issue of party caucuses, it is done by both the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and opposition parties.

But BDP mostly uses its numbers to shoot down motions that are brought by opposition parties’ Members of Parliament (MPs) in order to frustrate them. Normally motions go to Parliament as people’s views on how they want the law to change.

What frustrates MPs is that some of the motions are not even taken into consideration even if the motions have passed. Normally, when the motion has passed, it is up to the Executive to elevate it to a law or policy but nothing compels them to implement it. Some motions need a concerned Ministry to enact a Bill that will then be discussed again in Parliament for it to be a law.

Up to date, Parliament has passed several motions that have not been implemented. According to political analyst, Lesole Machacha, the biggest hindrance for Parliament to be effective is political party caucus.

“For Parliament to work well, it should do away with party caucuses because MPs have forgotten that they are representing people who have voted for them. We have seen that even important or necessary motions which could help Batswana are turned down simply because they are brought by an opposition member,” argued Machacha.

“Even the opposition members at times fail to support motions that are brought by the ruling party members which we believe are important. This is really sad for the country and it calls for Batswana to stand up and take issues of elections very seriously. This kills debates even in Parliament and Ministers do not care about issues raised by MPs.” Machacha also said Batswana are now aware of what is happening in Parliament because it is broadcast live on television, radio and social media platforms. He said people can see that some ruling party MPs do not care whether the motion or Bill is important, but rather use their numbers to shut down important motions.

Still, on the matter, Machacha said the 12th Parliament is completely different from previous ones because some MPs from the ruling party and opposition ones used to agree on certain motions but with the current one, tables have changed.

In addition, he said there is a need for Parliament to be independent so that it could advocate for people’s welfare without fear or favour. Machacha said the independence of Parliament could help MPs to do away with party caucuses, which gag them to be free when debating issues.

“As much as people are voted per party line, it does not mean that it takes the right of MPs to debate issues freely. This issue of blocking MPs at party caucuses to debate the matters in Parliament is not doing justice to Batswana and it shows that parties at times do not care about people’s lives,” he added.

Another political analyst, Mokaloba Mokaloba said, “democracy is all about numbers and probably is suppression of the minority so that is largely used in our parliamentary setting because now the motions and Bills that are going to pass are from the BDP. It’s unfortunate that the BDP will keep on using its numbers, which is the negative side of democracy and it renders opposition useless. This is something that needs to be looked into. Party caucus should not be used to block debates in Parliament.”

For his part, BDP chief whip, Liakat Kablay said; “the reason why we sometimes do not support the motions brought by opposition members in Parliament is simply because they fail to follow procedures, but run to Parliament on urgency while they know that some Ministries want to amend either an Act or policy.”

He said sometimes opposition MPs refuse to amend their motions even when the BDP members want to support them.

The Umbrella for Democratic Change chief whip, Motsamai Motsamai said as opposition they have agreed that they would not reject an important motion or Bill brought by BDP members as long as they believe it could benefit Batswana.

“We have been consistent with our decision and that is why we had voted with them in some of the Bills we believed are important to the nation,” Motsamai said.

“The BDP is failing to practise the inclusiveness that they have been practising, but some seem to have learnt a lesson from what they have been doing. Of recent, some of the BDP members seem to be tired of the practice they are forced to do.”

He added some of the BDP members this week voted with them when they were rejecting the economic inclusion Bill, which was the move they were happy about.

Some of the important Bills that were useful but rejected by Parliament included: Prohibition of Child Marriages, to Prevent Sexual Relationships Between Parents and their Adopted Children; and Equal Treatment of Adopted Children in Inheritance.

Some of the motions that were rejected by Parliament included The Use of Ivermectin and Disbanding of the Presidential Task Force.

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