Saturday, August 15, 2020

Battle lines drawn for Masisi, BDP backbench

President Mokgweetsi Masisi is expected to meet disgruntled members of his backbench on July 14, 2020, just a day following the commencement of the winter session of parliament.

An “instruction” by a disgruntled section of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament to set up an urgent meeting with the President has been turned down by Chief Whip Liakat Kablay who said they should wait until the scheduled party caucus meeting set for mid-July.

“If they have a bone to pick with the President they will have that platform at the party caucus,” Kablay told The Telegraph on Monday.

He said in accordance with party procedures the MPs should make a formal request with the party Chairman and Vice President Slumber Tsogwane should Masisi fail to show up at the party caucus.

“That’s the problem with these new MPs, they don’t know how the party operates. They are not even supposed to be speaking to the media about their grievances. We will discipline them,” Kablay said.

Just eight months after elections President Mokgweetsi Masisi finds himself having to fight a war on three fronts.

Not only has he just learnt about growing frustrations within the civil service while busy fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, The Telegraph has learnt of the immediate threat to his Presidency coming from his own party the BDP.

The backbench and some within cabinet have grown increasingly impatient with the President who has been enjoying absolute power under State of Emergency following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Some MPs who spoke to this publication have expressed concern about instability in the party with some from the North feeling especially side-lined.

“There are those who feel Masisi has neglected the north region in favour of the south which has resulted in some councillors contemplating a move to the opposition,” The Telegraph has been told.

The disgruntled MPs, this publication has learnt, have not ruled out the possibility of following behind their councillors who they say are already in negotiations with the opposition

.

At least ten MPs including Mephato Reatile, Paulson Majaga, and Ignatius Moswaane are reportedly not averse to the idea of crossing floors if the situation remains unchanged.

Moswaane has been especially vocal about his disapproval of the government’s response to COVID-19. He was expected to deliver a petition on “the COVID-19 crisis” to the Speaker of the National assembly on Tuesday, June 30 2020.

Majaga faces statutory rape charges which he insists have been fabricated by his opponents within the BDP. Reatile, who has largely been seen an Ian Khama sympathiser, has been kept at arm’s length by party leadership since 2019 elections.

The tension within the party has not gone unnoticed. President Masisi has already begun holding one on one meetings with some of the concerned MPs in a bid to ease tensions ahead of the winter session of Parliament commencing July 13, 2020.

Those who have already held meetings with the President include Reatile and Mmadinare MP Molebatsi Molebatsi. “Yes I have met with the President but we were only discussing the usual internal party issues.  Nothing out of the ordinary,” Molebatsi said.

Sources tell The Telegraph the meeting with Molebatsi was a second attempt by Masisi whose initial decision to send BDP Chairperson, and Vice President Slumber Tsogwane failed to bear fruit.

Former MP for Mmadinare who lost BDP Primary Elections to Molebatsi, now Specially Elected MP Michael Mzwinila is one of Masisi’s blue eyed boys. This has left Molebatsi feeling isolated.  

Reatile is also alleged to have scorned Masisi’s attempts at reconciliation.

Some of the MPs who spoke to The Telegraph have hinted at the likely possibility of supporting a motion of no confidence against the President.  

Masisi is ,of course, no stranger to facing a motion of no confidence having survived one in 2018 following a move by then Leader of Opposition Duma Boko to topple the President just over 100 days into his stop-gap presidency. Masisi had just succeeded Khama as President through the automatic succession dispensation before sealing a five year term at the 2019 General Elections.

Divisions within the BDP may prompt the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), and Alliance for Progressives (AP) to consider another go at toppling Masisi over motion of no confidence.

The anticipated Cabinet reshuffle by President Masisi is also said to have fuelled tensions within the party. The impending reshuffle comes in the midst some Ministers’ already growing discontent at being side-lined in favour of the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force.

Some of the Ministers who are alleged to be candidates for possible demotion to the backbench include Karabo Gare, Edwin Dikoloti, Setlhomo Lelatisitswe, Buti Billy, and Tumiso Rakgare.

The race for Vice President is also said to be heating up with aspirants competing for the President’s attention. BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi who has seen his powers erode since elections is said to be one of the disgruntled VP hopefuls. Shashe West MP Fidelis Molao has been rumoured to be one of the aspirants for the VP post.

Some former legislators and party elders have also expressed their dissatisfaction at the current state of affairs both at BDP and government level.

Masisi’s administration came under fire this week over the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP))’s decision to engage AfriForum, a civil rights organization for Afrikaners, and Afrikaans-speaking people in South Africa to assist with the alleged P100 billion Bank of Botswana heist. Observers called it a diplomatic disaster for Botswana. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent a Special Envoy to Masisi following the DPP, AfriForum announcement. They were to meet on Tuesday July 30, 2020.

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