Speculation about the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) dangling the Deputy Speakership position to lure Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) legislator Pono Moatlhodi continues to gain traction. Moatlhodi, the political maverick, crossed over to the ruling party this past week just in time before the newly passed anti-floor crossing law took effect. He perhaps subscribes to the notion that good things come to those who wait for them.
His recent appointment as the Acting Deputy Speaker seems to have set things in motion for the former Deputy Speaker. Moatlhodi made his return to parliament in the 2019 General Elections under the opposition UDC ticket following his failed 2014 attempt as an independent candidate. He had initially lost to Thapelo Olopeng in the BDP primary elections who eventually replaced him as the Tonota legislator. Upon his shock return to parliament under the opposition coalition last year Moatlhodi made his intentions for the Deputy Speakership position clear, submitting his name for consideration in November 2019 before being forced by the UDC caucus to withdraw the nomination.
“It is indeed true Mr. Speaker that you are in possession of a paper that bears my name for the nomination of Deputy Speaker as agreed by the UDC caucus but we have since agreed as the UDC caucus that my name should be withdrawn for other reasons,” a disappointed Moatlhodi told the Speaker in 2019. But his ambitions for the position, it has now become apparent, have never been extinguished. He has since held a grudge against his own party over what he deemed a betrayal despite being appointed Opposition Whip. His frequent visits over to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s seat in Parliament where they would always seem to share a joke or two, unsettled his comrades.
“I have long maintained a cordial relationship with President Masisi and my presence at UDC does not deter me from interacting with him. I was a passionately close to his late brother Tshelang Masisi. I don’t understand why people should be concerned when I approach President Masisi,” he told the media then.He has since on numerous occasions come to the defence of the President, berating his own opposition colleagues for “disrespecting” Masisi.
Most recently Moatlhodi and his party had another fall out following UDC’s decision to suspend him from his position as Opposition Whip over criminal charges filed against him. He had allegedly assaulted and injured a minor in 2019 for stealing a neighbor’s mangoes.
Saleshando announced they had dropped him as Chief whip pending his court case.MP for Shoshong Aubrey Lesaso was appointed as the Interim Opposition Whip until Moatlhodi’s court case was decided. The Botswana National Front constituency branch also slapped Moatlhodi with a 60-day suspension pending a disciplinary hearing. The suspension letter accused the veteran legislator of disrespecting the coalition UDC and Vice President Saleshando. Moatlhodi protested the suspension as Chief Whip citing the “disrespectful” manner in which his suspension was effected, saying Saleshando announced it in Parliament without prior warning.
He threatened to dump UDC, saying he could not be in the same party as Saleshando and so did he. His reservations about working with the Leader of Opposition are also stated in his resignation letter from the party. “Ever since the 18th day of September 2020 when Honorable Dumelang Saleshando ferociously as well as atrociously devastated me under pre-text that I am guilty of an unconcluded crime; I have never had any peace of mind,” Moatlhodi said in his resignation letter, replete with typos and grammatical errors.
His move only serves to give credence to speculation that the BDP intended to recruit the legislator with the aim of appointing him to the position of Deputy Speaker permanently. The current Deputy Speaker Mabuse Pule is expected to take over a cabinet position.
It is the second time this year that Moatlhodi has been appointed as acting Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, becoming the first opposition MP to occupy the seat. Only time will tell if he eventually takes up the position on a permanent basis.