In my first instalment of the year I mentioned three areas that are likely to occupy a lot of public debate and attention from the media as well as political parties. In that discussion two of the issues were the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP), consolidation and preparation for the 2019 elections, especially the implications of the central committee elections in July this year. The other issue was the cooperation talks and what the outcome of those would mean for opposition unity and performance in the 2019 elections. The last few weeks has seen a lot on these two aspects in both electronic and print media, with a number of interpretations of how the unfolding matters of the two mean to each other’s likely status going into the national elections in 2019.
On the BDP side, reports continued to suggest that a lot of activity could be going on behind the scenes as alignments and re-alignments are shaping up amongst and between, especially those associated with the race for the chairmanship and by extension presidential interests. There is talk of a possible front by one of the reported hopefuls and the sitting Chairperson, suggesting that some alliance is either been considered or already in place. This would mean re-aligning of the former’s supporters to either move with their man or find a new home with the remaining potential challengers. It is often expected that the logical thing to do for these followers would be to decamp to their leader’s new home, assuming there is any, but politics sometimes defies logic and there maybe those who would rather join forces with the other challengers. There is also talk of a possible intervention by party leaders to seek for a compromise list going into the party congress to limit and manage the negative effects that are likely to emerge if it’s an open contest for the chairmanship in particular.
This potential compromise, whilst not as yet formalised in the party, is in itself realisation that the race for the chairmanship and by extension for the presidency of the country, may potentially polarise the party to the extent that it could weaken its position for effective competition in the general elections. It remains to be seen how this will unfold and how any form of resolution or lack of, would impact on the party’s strength in the wake of a potential opposition unity. The biggest question, central to stability and alignment of forces within the party, would be what drives the alignments and following of this or the other leader, individual, factional, party or national interest or indeed any combination of these varied interests. Lately are reports that a group of cabinet ministers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current chairperson’s leadership qualities and had hoped to get the president to seriously review or consider even replacing him. The same reports suggests that the president has in fact backed his deputy and this has a potential to either sooth the rifts or even open up potential foes in the battle for both the party and the country’s control.
The coalition side has also seen its fair share of coverage following the long awaited announcement of the agreement between the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP). This was what opposition folks and sympathisers has long awaited for, but emerging reports suggests that there are parties that have been aggrieved by the nature of the agreement. There are reports that within a UDC constituent, being the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), are elements who are not impressed by the way the talks were handled. In particular the concern centres on the allocation of the vice presidency to the BCP president to have a UDC structure with two vice presidents. This is an area that has opened up debates as to the integrity of the negotiating leaders and purported interest based considerations. The negotiating parties were always going to have to compromise in honesty and openness and these would invariably include very serious sacrifices in terms of what each partner could lose. The importance of negotiations like this one is for all parties to separate individual, factional and party preferences from the broader one that is for the movement.
It is accepted that the new formation was always going to find it hard to manage and massage the expectations from the parties as this is a transitional phase of the coalition. It is evidently clear that even when all may agree that coalition is the ultimate, the short term considerations from all parties will necessarily be based on individual party or party factional interest. The long-term reality whilst possibly known and accepted will at this stage often come second. The greatest test is for not only parties making up the coalition but more importantly their members in their different formations to be willing to forgo the short term preferences for the long-term value.
In that light would argue that the reported dissatisfaction of another UDC member, been Botswana Peoples’ Party and its demand for additional constituencies, should also be understood against the long term value their requests are likely to add to the coalition performance come 2019 elections. I am aware that the allocation of constituencies amongst coalition parties was based on a set of agreed principles and to the extent possible that ought to be followed. This exercise should also not be seen to simply appease parties such that constituencies end up been allocated to parties that are unlikely to make any meaningful gains in both the short and long-term. This is again where honesty and self-sacrifice comes on board amongst coalition members. Difficult as it is, each coalition member should be honest enough, firstly to themselves and assess their own strengths. This is why I would argue that in the long-term, it may and should not matter as to which constituency is allocated to which party, but seeking candidates who are likely to win should take precedence, especially where members of the parties in that particular do reach a consensus who they believe will represent the coalition better. I am also aware that this might be easier said than done but as a principle it ought to be explored and entrenched going forward, for now, because it’s a transitional phase, parties may stick to the allocation as agreed but still ask the question, who stands a better chance of giving us this or that constituency come 2019.
We will follow developments in this two aspect closely to see the impact they will have on the stability and strategies of the BDP and coalition UDC going into the next elections. Interesting certainly
*Dan Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana