Tuesday, March 5, 2024

BPF saved Boko’s UDC presidency

Beginning in 2012 when the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was formed to date, Duma Boko has always faced little known threat to his presidency. However, such threat was (temporarily?) lifted last month when the Botswana Patriotic Front joined UDC. At the heart of the matter is what one might call an electoral mathematical paradox.

Going back to when it was formed and until BPF joined it last month, UDC has always had a set of three different party members. The original members were the Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) and the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). After the 2014 elections, BMD was kicked out and replaced by the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).

From 2012 to date and much to the consternation of BCP, which has the highest number of MPs, Boko has always been the leader of UDC. He came to occupy that position through what was essentially a gentleman’s agreement that was made between Boko himself, Motlatsi Molapisi (BPP president) and the now-deceased Gomolemo Motswaledi (BMD president) at a meeting that was held in Mahalapye. A first-hand source familiar with what transpired at that meeting says that neither Molapisi nor Motswaledi were interested in the UDC presidency in the interim period that opposition collective was coming together. In what is described as a cordial meeting, the three opposition leaders agreed that Boko would be president, Motswaledi Secretary General and Molapisi Chairperson. However, there was also understanding that down the road, there would be an elective national congress to elect a national executive committee. Such understanding was formalised through a clause in the UDC constitution.

Years after settling into BCP and harvesting 14 seats via UDC arrangement, the party felt comfortable enough to start asking questions about why that clause was not being implemented. It can’t be too difficult to discern why: administratively, BCP is way ahead of its UDC affiliates. After breaking away from the BNF, the people who formed BCP also started leveraging their international connections to oil the administrative machinery of the new party. That was how BCP came to secure sponsorship from the United Kingdom’s Labour Party and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. The latter touts itself as “a democracy-building foundation.”

Some argue that BCP’s performance in the 2019 general election owes to its association with UDC and that it would otherwise have performed as badly as it did in 2014. The reality is that all UDC affiliates benefitted from the alliance and the BCP’s superior performance was a result not only of its internal strength but also of the growth it had been experienced between 2014 and 2019. The latter can’t be said of either the BPP, a comatose provincial party whose UDC membership is only symbolic and BNF, which was in turmoil at the time of the 2019 elections.

A UDC elective congress would have pitted Boko against BCP president, Dumelang Saleshando. Both men have served stints as both members of parliament and leaders of the Opposition Bench. Not only has Saleshando served longer than Boko (he is in his eighth year as MP, having served two terms so far while the latter has served one term), he has also physically spent more time in the chamber and was resultantly a more effective representative than Boko.

These factors would have worked in Saleshando’s favour in an open contest for the UDC presidency. Determined to avoid being hit by this bullet, Boko used his powers to successfully stall an elective national congress which, to be perfectly clear, could still have gone either way.

Interestingly, there is another option – which was never publicly discussed – that can be pursued to change UDC leadership. Boko was elected not by an elective national congress but by a very small presidential electoral college consisting of only three people: Boko himself, Molapisi and Motswaledi. Boko is UDC president on account of an interim arrangement that was cobbled together in 2012 and limited the electoral college to the presidents of the affiliate parties. That arrangement still stands because there has never been a congress prescribed in the constitution. Therefore, it stands to reason that the same electoral college that voted Boko into the presidency can also vote him out. In clearer terms, Saleshando and Molapisi (who comprised two thirds of this college) could have voted out Boko – who was only one-third of the college. The deciding vote in this case was Molapisi’s, meaning that all Saleshando had to do was get him on his side.

A source with a 360-degrees view into the workings of the UDC tells Sunday Standard that, at least until last month, the BCP was actively considering this nuclear option and that the BPP was amenable not only to its use but voting Boko out as well. The detonation would have been as swift as it would have been devastating. A meeting between the three men would have ended with Boko being ousted as UDC president and at the tail end of the fighting that would certainly have followed, a new leader (possibly Saleshando) would have emerged.

With the BPF having joined the UDC, the dynamics have completely changed. For the first time ever, UDC is made up of four affiliates, being BNF, BCP, BPP and BPF. What is most remarkable about this development is the electoral mathematics. A three-member UDC gave each party 33.3 percent in voting power and if BCP and BPP coalesced into a voting bloc, they could easily defeat Boko as a one-third bloc. BPF’s entry into UDC as an equal partner necessarily means that each party now has 25 percent in voting power. BPF joins UDC courtesy of Boko and the BNF – which means that these parties constitute a solid 50 percent voting bloc that is evenly matched against the 50 percent of the BCP-BPP bloc. Largely adhocratic, it is unclear how the deciding-vote mechanism would be applied. A stalemate is likely and Boko’s continued stay as president would be the result.

BPF joins UDC at a time that BCP is taking a breather from the UDC chaos. At this point nothing suggests that BCP will resume its UDC activities and once it exits, the opposition collective will once more have three affiliates. More importantly, it would mean that Boko will be secure in his position as UDC president. However, for as long as the collective continues on the basis of interim arrangement that was cobbled together in 2012, the nuclear option in question would still imperil Boko’s presidency. In a hypothetical future scenario in which BNF and BPF fall out, the latter would likely consider using such option.


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