At the beginning of 2008, the Kgalagadi North District will hold a parliamentary by-election to fill the void created by the resignation of Member of Parliament Obakeng Moumakwa. After three years of service, Mr Moumakwa decided to step down two years short of the general election in 2009, citing personal reasons.
A member of Parliamentary Committees on Health, Public Accounts, and Finance, Moumakwa had already announced his intention not to stand for re-election at the end of his term. But Moumakwa has sent political parties into an early frenzy trying to prepare to fill his seat for the remainder of his term.
With the previous district election hinging on only a 77-vote margin, no doubt this by-election will be tightly contested as well. While the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) seeks to maintain its control of Kgalagadi North, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is looking to avoid another narrow defeat and strengthen its large parliamentary majority.
If history is any indication, the BNF will need the cooperation of its fellow opposition parties in order to hold off the BDP. The 2004 general election was the first time Kgalagadi North was contested, following the split of the now-defunct Kgalagadi District into North and South constituencies. That year, the BNF and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) followed their mutual strategy of allowing the opposition party with the strongest support in a given district to take on the BDP alone, in order to avoid splitting the opposition vote. With the BCP off the ticket in Kgalagadi North, the BNF grabbed 3,486 votes, just enough to surpass the BDP’s 3,409.
This agreement among opposition parties stems from their July 2005 national congresses, where the newly elected executive committees were strongly pushed by supporters to ensure opposition cooperation. On top of that, the BNF and BCP had even agreed to support each other in all by-elections prior to the 2009 general elections.
However, at this moment there is no indication that the opposition parties will follow through on their agreement this time around. According to Dumelang Saleshando, BCP Secretary for Information and Publicity, the BCP had “not been officially approached by BNF” to discuss a plan of action for the by-election. Presently, he continued, representatives from the BCP have been dispatched to Kgalagadi North to “assess the best way forward.” Saleshando further stated that he suspects that the BNF may have had a “change of heart” and no longer intends to maintain their opposition solidarity.
Confirming Saleshando’s suspicions, BNF Publicity Secretary, Moeti Mohwasa, has indicated that the party has no intention of reaching out to the BCP, the only other opposition party with representation in Parliament, albeit just one seat. Presently, the BNF is closing in on its nomination for Kgalagadi North, confident that it can take the parliamentary seat on its own. Mohwasa indicated that the falling out stemmed from a difference of opinion regarding what model of cooperation should be utilized by opposition parties.
On one hand, the BNF prefers an “Alliance Model” which would enable the BNF to challenge the BDP as the dominant and most recognizable opposition party. However, the BCP prefers the “Pact Model,” in which “participating parties work under some loose arrangement used to determine which party contests elections and in which constituencies,” according to a report written by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa. The latter approach would allow the BCP to retain its distinct identity as it seeks to strengthen its influence in Botswana politics.
Despite the loss of the BCP partnership, the BNF is viewing this by-election as a unique opportunity to consolidate its electoral base in a district that, according to Mohwasa, has become increasingly supportive of the BNF. However, the BDP, still smarting from its narrow loss in 2004, has vowed to come out in full force to reclaim the Kgalagadi.
BDP Deputy Executive Secretary, Fidelis Molao, commented that the BDP has faced the opposition before, both united and separated, and that the party is “focused on using every resource to take back a traditional BDP constituency.” The BDP will decide on a candidate for Kgalagadi North following its regularly scheduled December 8th primary elections. Whoever gets the nod is sure to face some tough competition come early next year.