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It is an election year and Botswana is gripped by crazy politicking characterized by deceit, lies, irrationality and stupid hostilities. Essentially, a notable trend in Botswana politics over the past elections has been the rise of a lack of purpose.
Elections have become a ritual just cast a ballot as a proud participant in the show of madness. For the ruling party, their politics is aimed at dismantling the opposition and render it completely irrelevant mainly by dispensing freebies to the irrational and clueless voters.
For the opposition candidates, their purpose in politics is narrowly confined to each registering a solo home run and making it to the council or parliament. From one vantage point, politics has been reduced to a regular bikini contest where contestants fixate on the self and care less about what the audience may think about their morals.
Principles and morals are sacrificed and all purpose of being in politics is lost as the contestants and spectators show case their unique talents and heroic feats as buffoons. In the end, there is no purpose in politics other than to pay idiot tax maximise votes irrespective of where they come from, hence it is said that politics is a game of numbers.
The vote becomes the supreme good - much more important than what parties stand for. Not only do candidates become proud of being dishonest but they also become immoral as a matter of routine wherein the ruling-opposition dichotomy becomes blurred or at best non-existent.
While the ruling party candidates exaggerate their worth, the opposition candidates highlight the evil deeds of their competitors. That is before they swap political homes and somersault on their opinions about their new parties and colleagues. All the while, the voter is a made a key stakeholder in the race to win the coveted prize for the best crook.
Indeed running for political office can be brutal and life threatening and for perennial losers, any opportunity that enhances one’s chances for a victory cannot be passed over regardless of the likely consequences. Thus, the pressure on opposition candidates to win for themselves and their handlers (not for their parties) undermines their integrity specifically by causing them to seek short cuts to victory.
The burning desire to win at any cost makes them susceptible to external influence and control. Put another way, the opposition candidates let their frustrations influence their choices and actions to the extent that assistance of any sort, from anyone and from anywhere is welcome because in politics you need the numbers to win, by any means whatsoever.
This tactic offers very little comfort to those seeking to advance their party agendas founded on people-centred policies and self-reliance in the endeavour to deliver an alternative government. The result of this desperation is an opposition bloc whose candidates freely demonstrate dishonesty, unethical behaviours and self-interest for survival.
Yet, the practice of seeking short cuts to victory devalues politics as the basis for distribution of public resources. It has tended to make opposition candidates count more on migrant voters who vote a different party at every election; angry voters who are essentially members of the ruling party who vote the opposition mainly because they are unhappy with certain government policies and compassionate voters who are by and large non-partisan voters who, like distant mourners, merely vote opposition candidates out of pity for their life struggles and never-say-die attitude on the backdrop of a losing streak that can easily finds its way into Guinness World Records.
While support from these categories of voters is valuable, it is least guaranteed and a bad substitute for the tried and tested, baptized fighters, and dependable survivors of cut-throat opposition politics who have not given up in spite of repeated humiliation at the hands of their moneyed opponents.
The widely reported bromance between the UDC and the newly formed BPF demonstrates treacherous desperation by politicians who are just in it to win for themselves without any concern for the consequences of their actions. The bromance paints many of the opposition candidates as excessively desperate as to team up with renowned looters and defile the basic logic of accountability and reliance on own strength.
Over-reliance on migrant voters and those who cast ballots in favour of the opposition on account of their momentary anger is like having a romantic relationship with a rapist to get even with a sworn enemy. Not only is the strategy self-defeating, it is traumatizing because it results in near wins which translates into big losses because our First-Past-the-Post electoral system does not reward those who missed the hole by an inch.
For as many years the opposition has marginally benefitted from the support of migrant and compassionate voters and for the equal number of times the opposition has failed to cross the Rubicon. This is because the ruling BDP continuously review its performance and this often result in cosmetic changes at key areas that may have frustrated its members to the point where they prostituted with the devil. Such interventions may not completely appease all dissenters but they go a long way in getting back some lost votes.
The opposition’s near wins won’t change anytime soon unless they take stock and refocus on building up a critical mass of core supporters [the diehards, survivors and sworn believers of opposition politics] and convert or radicalize compassionate and migrant voters into dependable, determined lieutenants of opposition politics.
Opposition parties could still count on the compassionate voter who understands the critical role of the opposition in a democracy. However, such are few and their numbers will continue to diminish given changing circumstances such as the ability of the opposition to attract top class politicians and/or crooks; to mobilize financial resources and even boast about the new pattern of their association with tycoons.
As more and more crooks, fugitives and wealthy vagrants who have been spat out by the ruling establishment find their way into the opposition, feelings of compassion are bound to become irrelevant and the influence of compassionate voters will shrink substantially and the experience of almost winning the overall general election through a borrowed vote will continue.
Like addicted gamblers, the opposition has always taken the near wins as a sign that they are going to win in the next attempt and this will go on and on until they realize that the best way to hit the hole is to believe in their voters, NOT in destiny, NOT in fate.
It is hard to imagine that the opposition has perennially lost at general elections in spite of presenting solid, cutting-edge policy alternative and buoyed by its own supporters, BDP renegades and the compassionate voters. The truth is that the opposition has tended to neglect a basic principle that in any struggle combatants ought to rely more on their strengths rather than expect to benefit handsomely from defectors.
The near wins experiences are a lesson that the opposition has to move up a gear and grow its membership by attracting voters with the right attitudes to persevere as well as focus on attracting rational voters who believe in the fundamental role of the opposition as a check on the government. An opposition that gives priority to growing too fast by hook or by crook runs the risk of imploding at some stage on account of a lack of purpose and a lack of a critical mass of mortal combatants – the graduates of the academy of opposition politics.
Any political party or a coalition that is not founded on the strength of its core members who have survived the emotionally and financially draining opposition politics would be like an ambitious pyramid scheme that is not bothered by the origins of funds, the character of investors and devoid of a long-term program.
Going forward, the opposition must reconfigure, recalibrate and grow its own support base so as to rely less on moody migrant voters and documented crooks, failing which, we will miss and miss until the sun rise.