Political climate pregnant with uncertainty ahead of general election

23 Nov 2018

BY JOSEPH BALISE

Political and social pundits are at wits end trying to unravel the current political puzzle engulfing Botswana’s major political players, especially leading political parties and their leaders.

Save for Ndaba Gaolathe’s Alliance for Progressives (AP), the other two main political party players in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the main opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) are embroiled in in-fights that are likely going to take way long beyond the 2019 general election before they are finally resolved.

Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabatswe Masisi

The BDP leader and state president has recently gone on record admitting the volatile state in which the ruling party finds itself in. Delivering his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on November 5, Masisi told the nation unequivocally that: “Batswana are all aware that the transition from the previous administration has not been smooth as expected. However, it ought to be noted that, I have in my attempt to smoothen the process, engaged senior citizens namely; His Excellency Dr Festus Mogae, His Honour Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Honourable Ray Molomo, Honourable Patrick Balopi and Honourable David Magang to assist and lead in smoothening the transition. I regret to announce that their efforts have not borne fruit up to this point”.

This is quite a telling statement on the state of affairs of the ruling BDP. How Masisi and his predecessor Dr Ian Khama’s rift will finally be resolved is a big national nagging question with no easy answer in sight.

The rift appears to be premised (rightly or wrongly) on private agreements brokered between Masisi and Khama before the latter left the presidency and the former ascended to the country’s highest political office.

Whether the mediators would have managed to resolve the impasse between the two before October next year when Botswana holds its twelfth general elections still remains to be seen.

Prior to the SONA at the Francistown Botswana Business National Council, Masisi did not hide his frustration at the turn of events within the ruling party during its Bulela Ditswe primaries.

“As President I cannot but take note of the obliteration of my cabinet at the BDP primaries. To tell the truth, some of the people who beat them cannot serve the country at the level at which these men have served. Sadly the constitution compels me to choose my cabinet from Parliament. I believe there should be national dialogue to evaluate if the time is not right to change the constitution and allow the President to select his own cabinet. We will initiate such dialogue, mindful of the fact that we are a democracy that value consultation and accountability. I will not bow to pressure to reshuffle my cabinet…if they respect the law”.

Clearly Masisi is at wits end, his blue eyed boys were beaten hands down at the primaries and he is at crossroads on what to do in the event his party wins the 2019 general election, especially regarding the composition of his cabinet. In his view, it is clear that most of the Bulela Ditswe winners are not cabinet material.

Dr Ian Khama Seretse Khama

The immediate former president is clearly reeling in extreme anger over the embarrassment and humiliation that he feels his successor has been meting out on him. Immediately after Masisi told the nation about the rift in the SONA, Dr Ian Khama countered that it was regrettable that the statement given on the occasion of the SONA about the situation concerning two parties (Khama/Masisi) reflected only on one side without consultation with the other in order to give the nation a balanced perspective or the lack of it.

The former president said as far as he is concerned the transition has been smooth as “acknowledged both locally and internationally in that it was a transition from an incumbent leader to his successor”.

Commenting on the intervention of the BDP elders, Khama said it is not bearing fruit partly because the current administration has constantly been engaged in actions against the former president which continued even after the elders were initially brought in, casting doubt on the sincerity, genuineness and commitment to reach reconciliation.

“The actions, wrongful in nature, were proven as such by the recent private and public apology given by the administration for one such wrongful action and the reimbursement on its part for another…unfortunately the misleading statement in the SONA does not reflect this latest situation”,  Khama is on public record saying.

This clearly shows the parallel extent at which the two are at. And it does not look like the impasse will be gotten over any time soon. It is not far-fetched that the ruling party will go into next year’s general election a polarized lot.

Duma Gideon Boko

As UDC leader, Boko has been accused of dithering for far too long on the state of affairs at Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Before the Bobonong congress which culminated in the BMD split with the formation of AP, Boko had publicly gone on record admitting that UDC had no power to intervene on BMD matters.

He even took a country wide tour affirming to all and sundry that all is well within the umbrella coalition.

However, things eventually got to a head and he took the bold move to suspend the BMD and gave it 30 days within which to appeal to the UDC congress, if aggrieved by the suspension.

Even the ordinary person currently holds the firm view that all is not well within the umbrella coalition because the Sidney Pilane led BMD has not taken the suspension lying down threatening to take the UDC to court. It remains to be seen when the matter will be registered with the courts but BMD is understood to be deliberately delaying so as to derail UDC campaign for the 2019 general election.

Sidney Tshepiso Pilane

The BMD president has gone on record declaring that his party’s suspension from the umbrella coalition is null and void, further questioning Boko’s legitimate UDC presidency. Pilane questioned where Boko had all of a sudden derived powers from to suspend the BMD. BMD followers posited that if anything, they should have been suspended or expelled from the coalition before the Bobonong congress.

A slippery and suave legal guru, Pilane is in mean mood to prove his legal worth by challenging BMD’s suspension. Those who know him well say he is bracing for a tough legal battle that is not only going to be financially draining to the UDC, but also for the umbrella coalition politically.

Dumelang Saleshando

Fighting in Boko’s corner, he has become the focal point of BMD battering. BMD is already questioning Saleshando’s Botswana Congress Party’s entry into the umbrella coalition. In BMD’s view, BCP is not a legitimate member of the UDC and should never have been allowed to preside over their suspension.

BCP’s strength lies in its followers who voted it en masse although it failed to garner the requisite Members of Parliament at the 2014 general election. With a membership in excess 150 000 followers, BCP is a big political player which cannot off hand be lightly dismissed in the country’s political arena.

It is also in the public domain that Saleshando and Pilane do not see eye to eye. A leaked WhatsApp conversation between the two confirms the acrimony prevailing between the two political leaders. Pilane has even threatened to ensure that Saleshando is ultimately prosecuted and imprisoned, for a lengthy jail term. Saleshado’s transgressions are not known but Pilane appears to know something that ordinary citizens don’t know about Saleshando.

However, in the eyes of his followers, Saleshando is the most squeaky clean politician in the umbrella coalition. The BCP followers are not happy that every time there are problems at the UDC, their own Party is targeted as the trouble maker at the expense of real trouble makers.

That the UDC is in shambles is clear to all. It remains to be seen whether all the problems engulfing the UDC would have been resolved before the nation goes to elections next year

Independent Electoral Coalition

The electoral body is also a troubled lot. IEC had targeted to register almost 1.6 million voters but information coming out at the close of the first registration exercise is that only a third have so far registered.

With a short fall of plus or minus one million voters, it remains to be seen whether if there are to be any supplementary registrations, the IEC will finally manage to close the deficit.

Voter apathy is the biggest challenge the IEC is currently grappling with.