April 7 2010 : Mmoloki Raletobana is on the other end of the phone. The Member of Parliament for Kweneng South is trying to convince me that there is still life for Barata-Phathi members in the BDP after the controversial Big Five Lodge meeting.
Specifically, the MP who is one of seven linked with the BDP breakaway party is saying, “there is still hope for reconciliation.” He is filling me in on his recent meetings with President Lt Gen Ian Khama and Vice President Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe convened to try and address the party crisis.
Raletobana is unapologetic that having been part of the Big Five Lodge meeting that mooted the formation of a new party; he has entered into peace talks with the BDP leadership behind the back of his colleagues. “I am still a member of the BDP, the party leadership has not done anything wrong to me, but I am with Barata-Phathi because we share the same principle and are unhappy with the goings on inside the BDP. I however feel that we should give reconciliation a chance.”
The Member of Parliament represents a small but important constituency inside Barata-Phathi who are still struggling with a bundle of emotions. These are easy pickings for BDP leaders who have already started identifying vulnerable members of the planned breakaway party and pressuring them to come back.
Barata-Phathi insiders are however optimistic that despite the pressure on individual members, most have held their nerve. “In fact we are growing the number instead of losing some, so I am pleasantly surprised,” said an insider.
For most Barata-Phathi members, Raletobana’s proposal that they should apologize to the BDP leadership is a non- starter. The group has had to work hard to win back the public faith they lost after they failed to vote in Gomolemo Motswaledi into parliament as specially elected member in October last year.
Riding the crest of a public sympathy wave, Barata-Phathi members held nocturnal meetings with the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) to share among themselves parliamentary seats for specially elected members. Under the deal, Barata Phathi was to have two seats while the remaining two seats were to be shared between the BNF and the BCP. The alliance between Barata-Phathi and the opposition would have wrested parliamentary control away from President Khama.
The BDP president, however, out-maneuvered Barata-Phathi and most of their loyalists watched in disappointment as the plan unraveled on the parliament floor. Barata-Phathi managed to regroup but has not recovered to its former strength. It is feared that a compromise with the BDP leadership would come at the cost of public confidence for Barata-Phathi. This would make them sitting ducks for the witty Khama. For most Barata-Phathi members, it is a matter of political life and death.
Barata-Phathi insiders are optimistic that once a new party has been registered and alliance deals with the opposition in place, “many more” will resign from the BDP to join them. How many? Barata-Phathi insiders don’t want to put a figure on it, but suggests it will be “a significant number”. One insider says that it is not only backbenchers who are torn, but ministers too, between wanting to trust the leadership, yet having grave doubts about the position party finds itself in: ” Most know that unless they cross the floor, they will not be able to retain their constituencies against the combined strength of Barata-Phathi and the opposition in the next elections. I think there are very few people anywhere on the BDP benches who are happy with the position that we find ourselves in.”
Yet if – as at present looks more likely, given the positions adopted by the two BDP factions, a new splinter party is registered the BDP would have to work hard to dam the expected flood of resignations.
A number of options are being mooted. It is understood that the party central committee has been pondering over a snap election that would catch both Barata-Phathi and the opposition still in disarray.