The BDP is dead but the opposition can still save it from losing state power!!

29 Jul 2019

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) probably has the best election manifesto for the 2019 general election - a manifesto that talks to the needs of the ordinary Motswana, entrepreneurs, the working poor and millionaires; a manifesto that is anchored on inclusivity and promises to rejuvenate the dreams of those who had resigned to subsisting on occasional soup and bread festivals emceed by political leaders; a manifesto that offers renewed hope for a life of dignity.

The coalition probably also has the best pool of human resources in terms of a combination of incredibly brainy people, loyal but militant thugs and jovial praise-singers. The coalition is in vogue like a fashionable liquor restaurant. Their ‘decent jobs, decent lives’ narrative is undoubtedly appealing to voters across the political divide.

Essentially, politicking is about telling a consistent and tempting story every single day. It is about persuading people to buy into an alluring and compelling story that is easy to relate to – a narrative that many voters identify with. The coalition seems to have got it right.

It is the same story at the leadership level. Having been accused of living large and hobnobbing with the elites who are essentially the enemies of the struggle, the UDC President Duma Boko has undergone significant transformation and is no longer seen as a bourgeoisie who has been loaned to opposition politics. He has made genuine efforts to be a leader connected to the masses.         

Clearly, the 2019 general election promises to be eventful and also potentially catastrophic. Of course every general election has its own share of juicy headlines and glaring flaws. Nevertheless, the 2019 general election is a historic election for it shall witness a visibly limping Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that has been dumped by its former cult leader and state President Dr Khama seemingly ready for the taking.

Indications are that the BDP cannot save itself from imminent loss of state power in 2019. What could and is likely to save the BDP is another miscalculation by the opposition bloc, in particular, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

The election is also historic in witnessing a solid coalition that has all the major opposition parties united in purpose and spurred on by the bewildering support of former BDP and state president Dr Khama. As things stand, the 2019 general election is for the UDC to loose.

It has to be recalled that in the 2014 general election the UDC threatened to take the ruling BDP to the cleaners and popular opinion was that had the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) been part of the coalition going into the election, the BDP would have lost control of state power.

The ruling BDP’s share of popular vote was at its lowest and a majority of its Members of Parliament and Councillors had won by very small margins. Wide opinion was that the BCP was the spoiler. The BCP has since joined the coalition and the UDC now has a member many faulted for the coalition’s marginal loss and there is therefore no reason why they cannot win this time around.

At the other end of the spectrum, the ruling BDP has been on a downward spiral on a consistent basis. The formation of the breakaway Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) whose spiritual leader is former BDP leader Dr Khama has certainly taken away a sizeable number of people from the BDP, further eroding its support base.

The BDP’s widely documented transgressions in government have angered the voters including its own members. While the BDP is expected to retain a chunk of its electoral support, it is highly unlikely that the ruling party can be assured of the usual song and dance routine after vote counting.

The odds are stacked against the ruling BDP and if they fail to win the 2019 general election, their calamity would not really be surprising and not a monumental disaster. This is not to argue that the BDP is not under pressure to win and continue enjoying privileges of being in power but rather that their loss wouldn’t be a loss at all. Their grave has been dug a little deeper for obvious reasons and the grave site preparations are complete.

While the BDP still has a fair share of pressure to win and retain state power, the greatest pressure will be felt by the UDC coalition. The UDC’s pressure to win is actually generated by the coalition’s preparedness and elaborate advantages particularly the BCP’s membership in the coalition.

Thus, the UDC faces the greatest challenge to win the 2019 general election than is the case with the BDP. While other opposition parties contesting the election may just have to record one or two victories at the ward level and celebrate the outcome, the UDC has to win or risk losing its wholesale appeal to the electorate for good.

Coalitions are formed to have an instant impact and such impact cannot be measured in terms of a brave show at an election or significant electoral growth. Coalitions that fail to win state power in their second bite at the cherry always have to face some questions about their relevance and future in national politics.

There won’t be any silver linings to the UDC loss especially after using all tricks including bringing on board individuals they have used as election fodder in entirely all of their past election campaigns. Significantly, the UDC won’t be pardoned for their poor premise about the moral limits of using former president Dr Khama in their struggle to emancipate Batswana from BDP’s and Khama’s misrule.

If the UDC falters at the polls, members of the various parties that belong to the coalition will lament the coalition’s failure by apportioning blame on other member parties for being liabilities and a distraction. When this happens as it is bound to, the coalition will be in trouble and those individuals who never supported the project but nevertheless gave it the benefit of doubt will renew their infectious call to have their parties pull out of the disastrous project.

Thus, the 2019 general election are a cruel litmus test for the UDC and they will have to use all their might to win or risk fading away. The coalition does not have to demonstrate significant electoral growth to survive being cast out like dust in the street. Individual parties partaking in elections may have the luxury to make noise as the next biggest parties after the ruling party.

Coalitions on the other hand do not have that luxury of nearly upsetting the apple cart. They either have to win or get vanquished in no time. Thus, going into the 2019 general election, the UDC must be armed with the strength to battle for a win to take over state power and save the people’s project.

Anything less than a win could render the project irrelevant, hopeless and a waste of emotions and resources. Failure to win will result in loss of public confidence. Naturally, people become more despondent whenever they fail as a group. As despondency creeps in, group members begin to doubt the credibility of their combined efforts. In a nutshell, the UDC faces a moment of truth and their loss would be calamitous on expectations to win the general election given the prevailing favourable conditions.

However, politics have proven that it is much easier for the opposition to lose than to win especially when on pole position. The UDC ought to guard against failing at the last hurdle by remaining focused and do more to capture the imagination of the public.

The UDC must find ways to battle the usual challenge of low legitimacy that often confronts opposition parties. Many Batswana still do not understand and appreciate the role of the opposition in governance. The opposition is still seen just as a group of those who want to board the gravy train using revolutionary dogma. To battle this negative perception, the leadership needs to rein in their appetite for luxuries and stop their wayward commentaries on social media and other unregulated platforms where the rules of engagement exclude respect, dignity and privacy. Fixation with social media for political convenience creates opportunities for leaders to transform into cloned celebrities of some illegal products.   

Importantly, the UDC shouldn’t feel that they are entitled to the support of the voter given BDP’s mismanagement of the economy. Discontent with the BDP policies does not mean a sure vote for the people’s project. The UDC still has to engage and persuade voters and this will require them to be very keen to sense the public mood.

Blaming voters for being conservative and content with poor living conditions is outdated politics that help its purveyors to lose big. Blaming the media for not doing enough to advance the cause of opposition politics is naughty old playbook and a waste of precious resources. It is an antiquated cry for media coverage. Blaming the ruling party for using state resources is stuff of pre-school politicians.

The UDC must focus on delivering its message [decent jobs, decent lives] without expecting the BDP to help them do so. The UDC ought to have a consistent conversation with the voter to demonstrate that they can be trusted as an alternative.

Crucially, the UDC ought to leave pejorative campaigning and spectacle politics to those who have nothing to offer except their ridiculous jealousy and hatred.