The general membership of the Botswana National Front in the Gaborone Central constituency meets on Tuesday to debate a possible electoral deal with the Botswana Congress Party.
A proposal floated is for the BNF to support Dumelang Saleshando, the BCP’s parliamentary candidate for next year’s general election. In return the BCP will vote for the BNF in four wards.
Reached for comment, Saleshando said that he was neither aware of the proposed deal nor of the BNF being desirous of interesting his party in such a deal.
Officially, the issue has not been mentioned at party level and depending on the outcome of the Tuesday meeting, the issue will either fall by the way side or be formally presented to the BCP through party structures.
If all goes according to plan, the Village ward by-election, where the BNF’s executive secretary, Kagiso Ntime, is contesting, would be used as experimental ground for future cooperation.
While Saleshando says he is unaware of the BNF proposal, other BCP members say they are aware of the proposal. One of them is Raj Rathedi, a former member of the party’s central committee who says that on the whole such cooperation is vital and bore fruit four years ago.
Speaking in his personal capacity, Rathedi says that in 2004 he spearheaded an unofficial deal between comrades in the Gaborone Central constituency. The nature of the said deal was some kind of bipartisan gentleman’s agreement in terms of which there would be collective and strategic voting for Saleshando for parliament and Ramaotwana for the city council.
“I saw great potential in both candidates and wanted to see them elected and I determined that the only way that could happen was if opposition parties cooperated. I have been here since 1982 and am very close to students aligned to different parties. Of course, not everybody listened to me but I believe that a majority of people did,” says Rathedi who works at the University of Botswana.
On the basis of the 2004 gentlemen’s agreement, Rathedi says that BNF should serve out its term in Village ward. That is why he says although he is still a staunch BCP member, he plans to vote for Ntime whether or not his party agrees to an electoral pact or not. Further more, he would prefer that the 2004 alliance be renewed for the next round of elections.
However, there are also skeptics who define desperation on the part of Botswana’s main opposition. The claim being made is that with the BNF’s parliamentary candidate, Nelson Ramaotwana, having withdrawn from the race to join the civil service, the party does not have a replacement who stands a realistic chance of winning.
“For votes it would cast for Saleshando, the BNF wants the BCP to support its candidates in certain wards. If you look at the figures of the 2004 general election, we did much better than the BNF. It is they who need us, not the other way round” says a BCP source.
The Botswana Democratic Party won most of the council seats in Gaborone Central ÔÇô four in all ÔÇô while the BNF and BCP got one each. The latter party came second in all the wards it lost to the BDP.