University of Botswana (UB) political analyst, Mokaloba Mokaloba says political parties can no longer use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for not holding party congresses.
Both the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and opposition, Botswana National Front (BNF) are not clear on whether they will hold their congresses this year or not.
Only Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) have confirmed that they would each hold virtual congresses. Political parties are supposed to hold their congresses in July this year after they were postponed last year. The BDP and BNF had earlier postponed theirs in 2019 to focus on the general elections.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has brought challenges to the way we have been doing things. At first, it was understandable why some parties postponed congresses last year but this year, it cannot be used as an excuse. Democracy is about people’s choices and party central committees need to be elected. Other organisations have been holding congresses virtually and parties could do the same. The move taken by the BCP and the BPF is a good one because political parties depend mostly on their members. Congress is the highest decision-making body of the party and it gives direction to the members, central committee, party structures and it reverses or implements some decisions by all structures.
Parties cannot go for years without holding or postponing it,” Mokaloba said in an interview on Wednesday.
The political analyst said a congress was way of talking to the masses and making resolutions on how they want their parties to be run. In addition, Mokaloba said a central committee gets its mandate from the members at a congress and if a party keeps postponing it, he wonders where it would get a new mandate.
The analyst further said it is wrong for central committees to keep on running with expired mandates without trying ways to have them renewed by the masses.
He continued: “This is a big blow to democracy. Political parties belong to members, not individuals. Members should get worried if their parties keep on postponing congresses claiming that COVID-19 is the reason behind postponement. Their views will never be taken into consideration if their party leadership cannot find ways on how virtual congress can be held.
It is clear that things cannot go back to normal like before.” Mokaloba said failure to hold congresses could also contribute to dictatorship, as some people will start to believe that certain positions are meant for them and therefore, they should not be challenged. He said the same old people could not occupy offices for long without being elected by people. He added that the 2024 general election is near and each party should have a new mandate on how to approach elections.
He said the parties, especially the big ones should look more organised unlike smaller ones because failure to hold virtual congresses may affect them when electronic voting is taken into consideration. The analyst said the parties should start to use technology in the event electronic voting machines are used.
“Not everyone is a voter during the congress, but only delegates are. Virtual congress is less expensive than preparations for elections,” he said. BDP spokesperson, Kagelelo Kentse said the party has not decided on the month and date of the congress.
“The next central committee meeting will decide on whether the congress will still be held in July 2021 or not. July is just a month away and we had hoped that things would go back to normal, but things show that the virus will still be there.
However, the central committee has received some proposals from some party structures proposing a virtual congress. The central committee will advise us on the way forward on the matter,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
For their part, the BNF spokesperson, Justin Hunyepa said they have not thought of how the congress would be held.
“We have not thought of any option of holding the congress because we had thought things would be back to normal. Our congress was postponed in 2019 due to the general election and it could have been held in 2020, but COVID-19 brought a challenge to us.
If the situation does not change, the party central committee will give guidance on the matter. The membership is aware of what is happening and the issue relating to COVID-19,” Hunyepa said in an interview on Wednesday.