Saturday, January 23, 2021

It’s a democracy put up-side-down!

It would seem like we are headed for what the Americans call “The Imperial Presidency.”

Later this month, two days before Ian Khama becomes State President, the BDP will give him a package of early presents deliberately timed to add colour and fanfare to his honeymoon celebrations.

Under the new rules, he will effectively become more powerful than all of the party structures put together.
It sounds more like sleepwalking into the dark ages, but unimaginatively, the party spin doctors are busy waxing lyrical that the party is modernizing and reforming.

The truth of the matter though is that there is absolutely nothing modern or reformist about the bandied reforms.
Instead, the party blindly goes into its Special Congress with the sole aim of gravitating all power into the hands of one person ÔÇô its party president.
Under the new set up, the organization will transform into highly centralized political machinery.

Overnight, a whole array of executive positions will be relegated to impotent figurehead status.
Many other elected structures will in essence become symbols of history from another era.
Under the proposed claptrap of reforms the President of the party, already enjoying substantial powers, will formally be made chair of the parliamentary caucus.

He will further be decorated with more new powers to take summary disciplinary action against everything and everybody within the party.

To put the cherry on top the Party President will henceforth be empowered to single-handedly appoint a now formalized and empowered National Council of Elders.
Coming just two days before Ian Khama ascends the State Presidency the timing of the reforms is disturbing, tactless and indiscreet.
It sends disturbing public suspicions that Khama had long craved for these God-like powers. Unwittingly, it exposes the incoming president to public ridicule and contempt with real risks of spoiling the honeymoon.

By concentrating so many powers into just one person, unwittingly the BDP is undoing the rightly celebrated reforms introduced five years ago when they opened up their primary elections to a popular vote.

The mystery is why now?
The timing of the reforms can only reignite the old grumblings of special dispensation for Ian Khama.
The president’s increased powers are sure going to spawn backlash, resentment and jealousy.

We have no political axe to grind against the BDP, least of all against Khama but still we cannot help but express shock and alarm at a set of proposals that would effectively make Botswana’s ruling party look like an 18th century feudal relic.
There has never been a more determined assault on the country’s safeguards against excessive power and privilege.
I doubt the BDP is evolving in exactly the same route Seretse Khama would be proud of.

Sponsors of the reforms would argue that the shake up amounts to modernizations.
I doubt if the Founding President would buy the reasons behind the extensive powers given to his son.
My bet is that he would rather have wished that his party enhanced and consolidated the powers of the legislature which is the centerpiece of every functional democracy.
A closer look at the personalities behind the so-called reforms reveals a clear motivation of scorn.
The reforms have everything to do with internal factional battles and less to do with public mindedness and goodwill. Is democracy put up-side-down.
It’s all in the spirit of settling old scores.

Khama should rise above petty, small battles.
He should be careful not to let people gathered around him to use his name to spite others.
Amassing power for its own sake is no solution.

Truth be said, in the final analysis Khama’s success will be measured not by the reach of his power but rather by the dearth of his policy coordination and implementation capacity.
Clipping off the wings of the MPs by usurping power from parliament and bestowing it into the executive will inevitably bring about disenchantment among the BDP members of parliament who are going to feel not only muzzled but also sidelined.

That is not only dangerous but also a regretful leap back into darkness.
Chances are it could prove counter productive.
This sort of centralism is the first and surest step by the BDP under Khama to sow the seeds not just of internal dissent and discord but also of disunity.

We sure are headed for presidential imperialism where the Head of State will become more powerful than the state.
It’s not helpful that Khama himself comes across as a dedicated believer in expansive powers of the executive.
The biggest tragedy is that under the new powers the president cannot be meaningfully challenged.

With so much power in his hands, the president would simply draw a line on which issues are open to debate and which are not.

Even on topics open for debate self censorship will become so rife so much so that people will always be careful not to cross the Dear Leader’s line of tolerance.

Not known for encouraging critical internal debates to start with, this form of centralism will further engender a culture of political sycophancy and careerism inside the BDP.
It’s a strange kind of democracy we are trying to weave.


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