History of the past five decades may be about to repeat itself as the main partners in the opposition’s electoral pact fight over a vacant Gaborone City Council seat in Gaborone Bonnington South constituency. For a week now, the Joint Committee for Bye-elections (JCB), which is made up of representatives from all parties in the pact, has failed to resolve an impasse that has pitted the Botswana National Front (BNF) against the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
Bophirima Ward seat fell vacant in December last year when its councillor, who was from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, died. Both the BNF and BCP now want to each field the candidate who will represent the Umbrella for Democratic Change in a by-election that is expected to happen in not too long. Both parties are in the UDC – the other member party is the Botswana People’s Party. The UDC, the Botswana Patriotic Front and the Alliance for Progressives have formed a loose electoral pact that has seen this collective dominate the BDP in by-elections. The fight over the Bophirima Ward seat threatens to drive a wedge between the partners.
Ahead of the 2019 general election, the Ward was allocated to BCP, which surrendered it to the BNF, which fielded Mankie Sekete as a candidate. At the time, Sekete was a Specially-elected councillor in the GCC and a member of the Botswana Movement for Democracy, which was not part of UDC. On joining UDC, she joined the BNF. Sekete lost and through her party, wants to run again. BNF’s argument for wanting to field a candidate is that the BCP “lent” the ward to it for the 2019-2024 electoral term. BCP sees the matter differently, arguing that it was allocated the ward ahead of the 2019 elections and in that regard, still has final say on who can run in the by-election. Indeed, Sekete’s candidacy was approved by BCP president, Dumelang Saleshando, in 2019.
Each side has been given an opportunity to make a case for why it should be the one representing the UDC. However, more than a week later, the JCB has not been able to make a final decision on the matter because its own members don’t agree. The decision should have been announced last Friday but the stalemate made that impossible. Some are getting impatient as a result of this delay.
Sunday Standard learns that some BNF members in the constituency wanted Sekete to start her campaign without the JCB’s blessings but she urged restraint. Such action would alienate other partners in the pact, especially the BCP, and undermine chances of winning. The JCB’s decision has long been deferred and at press time (Friday night) was expected to be made the following day. With the Independent Electoral Commission having issued a writ for the Bophirima last Wednesday, the JCB no longer has the luxury of dancing around the issue: the name of the candidate has to be submitted 110 days after the issuance of the writ.
Sekete’s supporters are themselves not expecting an unfavourable outcome. If the decision doesn’t favour their candidate, they plan to go it alone. BCP members in the constituency, who wants to field Peter Mogapi, have also hardened their position. A source says that the likely end result will be two separate and warring campaigns, one BNF and the other BCP.
If that does indeed happen, the days of the pact would be numbered and the domino effect could reach the national level. That would scuttle a cooperation deal that has thrown the BDP into panic mode. The latter knows that if the cooperation holds, it will certainly lose the 2024 general election. Whether the opposition parties continue to work together could depend on what happens in Bophirima Ward.