By holding early primary elections in the 19 constituencies that it lost in the 2014 general election, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) hoped to limit the spillover effect of the tumult that traditionally attends these elections. At its worst, such tumult carries over into the general election phase and can louse up the party’s electoral fortunes.
The strategy doesn’t appear to be working because of a court case that has pitted the party against the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). The two parties have been at loggerheads since the 2011 strike by the latter’s members. Ahead of the 2014 general election, BOFEPUSU openly aligned itself with the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change, whose formation it encouraged. Resultantly, the BDP decreed that civil servants shouldn’t vote in its primaries because the party feared infiltration. The union collective’s own strategy is said to take the form of its members voting in weak candidates in BDP primaries, thus setting up such candidates for a thorough thrashing by opposition candidates in the general election.
“Why do you think we would go all the way to the Court of Appeal? We know exactly what BOFEPUSU is planning,” says a BDP source.
BOFEPUSU successfully challenged the decree that disenfranchises civil servants at the High Court and the BDP is appealing the judgement at the Court of Appeal (CoA). The court doesn’t coordinate its calendar with the BDP’s and that is proving to be very costly for the party. The delay in the resolution of the case means that the BDP primaries cannot go ahead as planned and on such basis, they have been indefinitely postponed. This uncertainty imperils the party’s early start plans.
“If the matter had been resolved, the winning candidates would have started their campaigns by now,” says the BDP source. “The party would have given them vehicles and campaign materials. The situation doesn’t look too good and we could be in deep trouble.”
The source says that the situation may be beyond reprieve because after the judgement comes out, the party headquarters (Tsholetsa House) will need time to make appropriate arrangements for the conduct of the primaries.
“The elections can’t be held in the same week that judgement comes out. December would be too late because then, party members, some of whom are workers and students, would be going away for the Christmas holidays. Holding the elections next year would be a disaster,” the source says.
The source’s qualification for “disaster” is that a longer campaign season will definitely lead to voters changing their allegiance in a manner that is detrimental to party cohesion. Such cohesion is already being tested. Preparation for elections takes the form of intending voters registering their names and other relevant details in their cell structures, within a defined period of time. The names are then submitted to Tsholetsa House which, after a verification process, compiles a national voters roll and issues membership cards that are used to vote in the primaries. Apparently, this process is not watertight enough because it has been breached, with some names being unlawfully submitted after the deadline. The result has been that one long-serving Tsholetsa House employee has been suspended. By itself, this chicanery will ÔÇô in addition to the CoA judgement, delay the primaries.
Disaster could also take the form of some candidates using the season’s tradition of giving as a cover to buy votes. BDP primary election rules forbid the buying of votes with gifts ÔÇô which can be in the form of a feast.
“There would be nothing wrong with a candidate throwing a big Christmas party and inviting people whom he knows will vote in the primaries. The party would not be able to take action against that person when it is very clear that he is buying votes,” the source says.