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15 Mar 2019

By Dan Molaodi

We are six/seven months away from the 2019 General Elections and still peace and stability seem to be eluding the major contending aspirants to the political power throne. This year’s elections would be a challenge to electorates as for the first time both the ruling party and the main opposition would enter the elections either still reeling with unresolved and/or polarising factional wars or having resolved such very close to election time and that would be a key factor in the performance of the contending parties.

On the side of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), two main issues account for the elusive peace and stability within the party. First is the stand-off between the incumbent president and the former president which has seen numerous outbursts from both camps and to date no solution has been arrived at , and it appears it might even get uglier before it gets resolved, assuming it will be resolved at some point. This tension has divided the party and it is even reportedly the reason we hear of the existence of a faction called “New Jerusalem”. Secondly, and relatedly is the pending election of the party’s president after for the first time in the party’s history the sitting president will be challenged at the national congress. This development has various aspects attached to it, amongst which is the debate on how the BDP presidential elections will be conducted. The statements from the Secretary General implied that there shall be block voting by the regions where the expression of support for any of the two candidates would be taken as votes for that candidate. This has been challenged and one of the candidates has taken the matter to courts of law insisting that the party constitution does not provide for block voting and instead stipulates for secret ballot voting at the congress. There are debates around the electoral procedures and how those must be conducted but what is at question is whether individuals voting at regional level to express their support for any of the candidates should be interpreted as a vote at the congress and whether a regional preference binds individuals at the congress.

The above is going to further polarise the party and by its own historical trends, the BDP has never experienced this types of tensions this close to national elections day. It is very clear that these two and many other topical issues such as the corruption cases on money laundering and the ongoing investigations on the former spy chief and his associates, are likely to reveal undertakings that would further erode public confidence on the BDP. It remains to be seen how the BDP will emerge out of these challenges and more importantly how soon it would mend the broken ties such that it enters the national elections with less or no divisions or factional wars still on fire. This is a real possibility as there are reports that following the Serowe meeting that was seemingly not sanctioned by the party, history seems to be repeating itself as the developments are very similar to those that led to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), as a breakaway by some BDP hopefuls who were against the former president’s approach to governance practices. Incidentally, it would appear that the former president would sympathise with the current faction if not been part of it.

Two scenarios are likely to unfold depending on the actions of the BDP’s National Executive Committee (NEC). If the NEC chooses to take action by suspending or even eventually expelling what now seems to be the leaders as identified from the Serowe meeting, either the entire faction would, just like 2010 resign en-mass from the party or remain inside and let their voting do the talking come elections time. If they leave it would appear the BDP would have lost a sizeable number of voters and the minority percentage attained during the 2014 elections might dwindle even further and this potentially handing political power to the opposition.

On the other side, the main opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), is also faced with its own problems. First, there is the pending court case with the BMD, whose court resolution may throw a spanner in the works, especially if the judgement favours the BMD. This would mean contentions on not just the coalition name but the very stability of the UDC will be dented severely. The UDC has had unpleasant experiences over constituency candidates in certain areas where coalition partners were even at each other’s throat over the preferred candidates. This is obviously putting the UDC project into disrepute and that it’s done by those inside the partnership may raise eyebrows on the electorates. In the event the BMD loses the case as envisaged by UDC members, it would in practice the entire original BMD partner is no more part of the UDC project as the other half has since become the Alliance for Progressives (AP) and the biggest question would then be how this scenario will affect the performance of the UDC. If both the BMD and AP have sizeable numbers relative to what the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) brought into the coalition, then the UDC has reason to worry. The current stance by the AP that it is prepared to go it alone is also a worrisome development as it in principle presents the coalition project as untenable and this of course will have to pass the test during elections. It is known that in the 2014 elections the electorates did punish the BCP for going it alone and leaving the coalition and it would be interesting to see if AP will suffer the same fate. It is out there to argue whether the context of the prior to 2014 is the same as now and if not what has significantly changed that suggests the AP might fare far much better than the BCP did in 2014. Proponents of the coalition project are maintaining that even in the context of current skirmishes and tensions within the UDC, the AP is signing its death warrant and would face the wrath of the electorates by going alone. The AP seems to be convinced that they are different from the BCP and the experiences would be different to the extent that they view the UDC problems as beyond redemption and therefore fashion themselves as the actually coalition home which presents a better choice for the electorates.

These events clearly present a pre-election period that is very volatile for the electorates and until the contending parties clean up their houses it puts the voter in a dilemma. If these tensions continue into the election period or are resolved late, the opposition is unlikely to cash in on what is for now a very vulnerable and limping BDP. It may even provide a possibility for a hung parliament with almost equal numbers of elected members of parliament from both sides. These developments require urgent resolutions by both contending parties, just so that the voter can choose wisely.   

*Dan Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana

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