Monday, October 19, 2020

 Presidential debates invaluable for African democracies

The script is written all over in electronic and print media. Both formal and informal conversations are pregnant with discussions across the political divide on what political parties are doing to woo voters and win their confidence ahead of the 2019 general election.

Still reeling from the effects of its lackluster performance in the last general election, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is already on an over-drive to thwart a marauding opposition set to end its uninterrupted rule since the country gained independence.

Little wonder some BDP youth were reported agitating for an early presidential contest of their party in an inaugural youth conference at Mosu village in the Boteti sub-district recently. The youth decision could have been inspired by the unprecedented high number of contestants in the run up to an elective national congress ahead of the 2019 general election.

For the past 11 or so general elections, the BDP president stood virtually unopposed in an elective congress, however tumultuous the general election promised to be. 

The decision is buttressed by the unprecedented race overcrowding for the top post. An early presidential contest would also allow the party ample time to cool off and rally behind the winner. This would in effect avert possible defections by losers and their supporters to the opposition.

On the other hand, the opposition is still relishing from its past impeccable performance in which they garnered seventeen parliament seats raising hope that the BDP is beatable. Buoyed up by the recent signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) to cooperate in by-elections until the next general election, there is a high possibility that all the opposition parties will contest the 2019 general as a solid bloc depending on the final outcome of the impending opposition cooperation talks.

The BDP has still to chart an amicable way of how to conduct its Bulela ditswe primaries which culminated with some losers contesting the last general election independently.

The party further has to take a decisive stand of whether its presidential nominee would be amenable to participate in presidential debates ahead of the next general election.

Political commentator Ndulamo Anthony Morima believes it would be in the best interest of the ruling party to embrace a presidential debate in the run up to the 2019 general election since the debates give the voters an opportunity to assess the ability of each of candidate to represent them effectively.

Asked whether the next BDP presidential candidate should embrace a presidential debate ahead of the 2019 general election, Morima answered in affirmative. “Of course yes considering the importance of a presidential debate in giving the voter the opportunity to assess the ability of each candidate to represent him or her effectively. Even such despots as Yuweri Meveni of Uganda have embraced presidential debates as shown in the recent elections. In Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta also showed that presidential debates are as much invaluable for African democracies as they are for western democracies”, said Morima.

On what harm the next BDP presidential candidate is likely to suffer if he rejected the presidential debates, Morima holds the view if the BDP candidate rejects presidential debate, he or she is likely to lose support, especially among urban voters and the educated.

He explained further that in rural areas and among the elderly the candidate may not suffer much detriment because a presidential debate compared to kgotla meetings and political rallies is less significant.

It also behooves the BDP to ensure that its presidential candidate is a person of high intellect and stature who will match opposition candidates like Duma Boko, Ndaba Gaolathe and Dumelang Saleshando pound for pound in a presidential debate.

Morima also posits that if the BDP presidential candidate rejects presidential debate, it would be idiocy indescribable because mature democracies have used debates, even for council and parliamentary elections not only for candidates to canvass for support, but also as a way of informing the voter on policies and as a way of countering voter apathy.

As to what should underpin his or her campaign, Morima explained that every candidate who belongs to a political party should have as their campaign foundation party’s manifesto.

“He or she should present a solid party manifesto. Most importantly, he or she should demonstrate that he or she will be a consensus builder and not polarize the nation as President Ian Khama did especially in these times of marauding opposition which has been gaining ground with the ruling party’s popularity on some free fall,” said Morima.

He added that “Not only that, the BDP presidential candidate should also demonstrate that he or she will abandon populist and unsustainable projects and introduce programmes which will create jobs and save Batswana from the abyss of poverty and unemployment.” 

As regards the kind of a presidential nominee the political parties should embrace in the run up to the 2019 general election, Morima holds the view that the BDP, and indeed all other political parties should embrace a presidential nominee whose manifesto is guided by the country’s four national principles of unity, self-reliance, democracy and development.

“Not only that, the party should also embrace a presidential nominee whose manifesto is guided by the country’s Vision 2036 and the value of botho,” said Morima.

He concluded that any nominee who does not base his or her campaign on these would be inimical to Botswana’s  and is likely to lead Batswana in an unproductive path as did President Ian Khama who, instead of carrying the nation’s flag and championing Vision 2016 and the four national principles, introduced his own so called Five Ds.

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