Tuesday, May 24, 2022

BDP, UDC bye-election campaigns get off to a false start

When we went to press on Friday night, the Botswana Democratic Party had scheduled a primary election for the Bophirima Ward bye-election for the next day. Given the state of affairs in the region in which this Ward falls, the lady who wins cannot count on the support of all party members.

As an indication of looming trouble, the Branch Chairperson of the Gaborone Bonnington South, Sidney Mooki, resigned from his position last Wednesday with “immediate effect.” Nothing in his resignation letter gives any indication that there is any trouble in BDP paradise but sources tell a different story.

“My resignation is solely based on personal reasons and it does not in any way imply that I am dissatisfied with my work,” Mooki writes in the letter.

On the other hand, party sources say that Mooki was actually dissatisfied with a decision taken by the Central Committee. The Branch had vetted out one of the three lady candidates, Ntebaleng Kedumele. The party structure above a branch is the region but from what we learn, the region under which Bophirima Ward falls never dealt with the matter.

“It was the Central Committee,” says a source.

That is just one part of the problem. The Gaborone Bonnington North MP, Christian Greef, is said to have been sidelined in the selection of the candidates – one of whom has been associated with Dr. Alfred Madigele. The latter served a stint as Mmathethe/Molapowabojang MP between 2014 and 2019 and was appointed to cabinet. Either Madigele wants back in or it is President Mokgweetsi Masisi who would like to see him return to parliament. There has been speculation that Unity Dow might step down any day now, creating a vacancy for one Specially elected MP seat. The rumour mill says that Madigele will replace Dow.

A new theory says that the party wants to field Madigele in Gaborone Bonnington South constituency, with the obvious implication that Greef has overstayed his welcome and is being offloaded. The latter doesn’t always toe the party line and in a period of time that parliamentary debates are televised, has said some things that will certainly have rubbed the party leadership the wrong way. The candidate who has been associated with Madigele would purportedly be a harbinger deployed in the constituency to cultivate ground support ahead of his anticipated run in 2023.

Red flags are also going up on the other side. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (which is a loose alliance of the Botswana National Front, Botswana Congress Party and Botswana Peoples Party), the Alliance for Progressives and the Botswana Patriotic Front have formed an even looser electoral pact that has seen the opposition dominating all bye-election there have been so far. The BDP, which has been in power since 1966, has reason to worry about the opposition sticking together because it could mean the end of its rule in the 2024 general election.

Representatives of opposition parties in the bye-elections pact held a meeting in Gaborone last Thursday. From this meeting, it emerged that representatives from both the BNF and BCP wanted the bye-election candidate to come from their own party. The meeting’s resolution was that at the next meeting, each party should make a case for why it wanted to be the one representing the UDC in the bye-election. On Friday, we learned that the BCP would be holding a “UDC” political rally in Bophirima the next day and that other UDC parties have not been invited to the rally. This news was met with alarm by not just the BNF members but other pact members. The aggrieved view this action as irregular and clandestine campaigning for a seat that has not yet been allocated to any party. It is also seen as a brazen attempt to undermine the resolution of the Thursday meeting.

What makes this issue even grimmer is that the BNF and BCP, who are the major partners in the UDC and electoral pact, have long-standing rivalry. The BCP was formed in 1998 by a BNF splinter group. This followed a national congress in Palapye at which two factions, one aligned with BNF president, Dr. Kenneth Koma, and another with the deputy president, Michael Dingake, literally fought for control of the party. UDC and the pact seems to have brought the two parties closer together but even then, this rapprochement needs to be managed very carefully – especially at a sensitive time like now when there is a more contentious issue.

Elsewhere in the world, the president of the UDC would come from the BCP because the latter has more seats in parliament than the BNF. The BCP won nine seats in the 2019 elections while the BNF won only four and would later lose two as Pono Moatlhodi (Tonota) and Aubrey Lesaso (Shoshong) crossed the floor to join the BDP. Some in the BCP are very unhappy about a situation in which the BNF retains the UDC presidency when the one metric through which electoral strength is measured clearly shows that Dumelang Saleshando (not Duma Boko) should be UDC president.

These factors aside, constituency/ward allocation has historically proven to be a divisive issue and been the reason why electoral pacts of the past didn’t last.

Bophirima may look like just one small ward in the Gaborone City Council but the outcome of its bye-election has far greater significance. The opposition pact has won more bye-elections than the BDP and analysis says that this winning streak could foretell how the 2024 general election will go. Results of the pact themselves prove what has long been stated – that if Botswana’s opposition parties come together, they will easily defeat the BDP.

BDP won Bophirima in the 2019 general election but its councillor died late last year. the second place went to Manki Sekete, a BNF member who represented UDC.

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