Making Sense of Current Defections across Political Parties
by Dan Molaodi
This week I would like to join the political debates on seeking answers as to why there has been an unprecedented movement of not only just members but high ranking members from one political party to the other. I will state upfront that I will not have all the answers as to the real reasons behind individuals’ decision to not only jump ship from a particular political party but also on which party to join or defect to. I wish to focus my discussion on the movement of members among and between the four parties as recent defections suggests to us, and that is the Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) ,and Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). My brief background is that in terms of ideological outlook, Socio-economic policies and related political culture and other aspects, it would appear that the BNF and the BCP are closer to the saw called leftist political outlook that is known to have bred the belief in deliberate state driven development policies, largely pursued through a social democratic programme focus. The BDP and the BMD would come across as the proponents of market economics that seeks to advance private sector led economic growth. These are very lucid and slippery categorizations that may be easy to make theoretically but could be very difficult to be visible at a practical level and therefore I maintain them at the risk of seeming to put simplistic analogies of the position of any of these four political parties in the larger world political camps.
If my positioning of the political parties is any way close to what they stand for, then it could be logical to argue that any movement of members who still believe in the general principles of the larger political economic outlook of either left or right, it would be of members moving from BDP to BMD and vice versa. Relatedly, it would seem logical for coalitions to follow that logic. But we do know that sometimes logic alone cannot explain trends in the patterns of movements of people across parties hence in our case we see people move from BNF to BDP and vice versa; some move from BCP to BMD and vice versa. In the context of principle based defections we would be seeing movement between BDP and BMD and that between BNF and BCP. As stated earlier, people do abandon their principles and others move for reasons that are purely personal with less principle based considerations and some simply give up on a particular political party for a variety of reasons that I may not list here today.
On the foregoing, what would be my take on some of the reasons behind individuals’ defections, especially in the recent? I am going to submit that when the BCP broke from the BNF in 1998, it was less of purely ideological differences as it was of organizational and management principles, largely hinging around the leadership style of the then BNF leader Dr. Kenneth Koma. Likewise, when the BMD broke from the BDP two or so many years ago it was also not on the basis of divisions on party ideology and policies but more about the leadership style of BDP leader Lt. General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. If politics were to be a logic driven game in the movement of party members across parties, it would have been logical to see members of the BCP and those of the BMD, easily retracing their tracts to their former parties (i.e BDP and BNF) purely on account of ideological principles assuming that they still hold those as a key determinant of their political pursuits.
This would be the case because among the members of BCP and BMD would be those that still believe in the policies and political outlook of their former party and only differ on what I would for now term cosmetic aspects of leadership style, organizational detail and even pursuit of personal agendas in some cases. When this lot lose hope with their new home, it’s very easy to retrace their footsteps back to their former political home.
However, among the BCP and BMD members are those who have simply been reborn into their new political homes and have taken a decision that going back to their former is a non-starter, under any circumstances, and therefore for them political satisfaction (if there ever is anything like that) can only be found in their new home. There will also be those who might have been forced to join a political party of a different outlook, even though they themselves have not totally abandoned their principles and the new political developments such as the coalition project present to them an opportunity to be closer to their comfort levels in ideological outlook. I deliberately choose to just mention this one in passing, as a reader you will probably have more of these. There will also be those individuals whose reasons for defection will be influenced by current relationships between specific parties, such as the seemingly strained relations between the BNF and the BCP; the BMD and the BCP and the BDP and BMD to a lesser extent. And there will be those who simply look where their bread is buttered and will swing with the tide for as long as they hope to personally benefit in the long run.
Logically therefore, it would be expected to see not only a larger number of defections following ideological patterns, including even efforts around the coalition movement. It would have been seemingly easy for the BNF, BCP and BPP and MELS to form a coalition and have the BDP and BMD form one purely on account of ideological outlook, but behold not so here in Botswana. The BMD found it easy to share warmth with BNF and BPP and the BCP has since stood aside.
I discuss these scenarios not to suggest that others are of less importance but simply to say the long term sustainability of individual political parties and projects such as the coalition partnership, will in part be premised on which of the type of defectors described above get to dominate in future. I know I have not covered other aspects of this argument but I will leave it at that for now and look forward to any feedback you might have.
*Molaodi teaches public administration at the University of Botswana