Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) president Duma Boko last week dared the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to support a motion calling for direct election of the president, saying this would give him an opportunity to face off with president Ian Khama at the polls.
Boko, who is also Leader of Opposition (LOO) said in an interview with Sunday Standard on the sides of parliament last week that he has no problem going head to head with Khama in a direct presidential election.
“I would beat him hands down. The man is hugely unpopular even within the BDP,” he said.
Boko’s statement comes in the wake of reports that the BDP is planning to sneak Khama back into the presidential race in 2019 through a motion calling for direct election of the president. Last year, Tati West Member of Parliament (MP) Guma Moyo backtracked from tabling the motion, saying he first wanted the party to endorse it at its national council and congress. The BDP is expected to discuss the matter at its forthcoming national council and congress.
However, Boko said such a move will be futile because Khama will never agree to direct election of the president as that will require him to engage in public presidential debates.
“We all know that the man does not like public debates. He ran away from me last time, just as he has been running away from the media and continues to shun presidential question time in parliament,” said Boko.
He added that BDP will not win the general elections in 2019 because they don’t enjoy the youth vote.
“As in 2014, the decisive vote will be that of the youth in 2019. They shunned BDP in the past elections and they will reject it again because it has done nothing for them.”
Boko further said UDC enjoys support from the youth because it inspires young people to be anything they want to be.
“We are self made men with traceable track records. Unlike BDP leaders we were not catapulted into power.”
Khama’s sweeping powers
The opposition has questioned why the president enjoys sweeping powers when he was not elected by the people. The 2014 Afrobarometer survey found that 48 percent of Batswana want direct election of the president. Khama took advantage of the sweeping powers bestowed upon him by the constitution, sparking uproar among opposition politicians and human rights activists. The constitution empowers Khama to choose his preferred vice president and cabinet ministers. He also chairs cabinet proceedings, appoints ambassadors and additional MP’s by special nomination. Khama enjoys total control of, among others, the armed forces, DIS, DCEC, Btv, Radio Botswana and Daily News as well as its printing and publishing functions.
Many questioned the independence of the legislature when Khama ignored recommendations of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and unilaterally appointed his preferred judges. He is the only one who is empowered to declare war and he is not obliged to consult anybody or heed anybody’s advice.
The constitution also recognises the president as an MP and allows him to vote. Most importantly, Khama enjoys veto powers and he must consent to all bills that pass before parliament for them to become law. Khama can declare anyone persona non-grata without giving reasons why. Worse, a person who has been PI’ed cannot seek remedy from the courts.
Calls for electoral reform
Boko urged Batswana not to trivialise the issue of direct election of the president as it comes with very important constitutional amendments.
“Do we want a president who is accountable to the people or one who, like Khama, does as he pleases?” he asked.
Further, said Boko, reform must also address issues of separation of powers and reduction of the president’s powers.
The same sentiments were raised by Professor Zibani Maundeni of University of Botswana (UB), who said a constitutional review will usher in a new dispensation, such that Khama will automatically qualify to stand for elections. However, Maundeni cautioned Batswana not to tread with haste, saying any change in electoral reform could result in conflict.
“Personally I believe the current parliamentary system was working well until it was corrupted. We can keep it if we cleanse it off presidential influence,” he said.
Maundeni added that past reforms of the current system strengthened the executive at the expense of parliament.
“Introducing direct presidential elections will reform the electoral system in a presidential way and I am against it. Reforms must empower parliament by making the president more accountable to it,” he said.