A ranking activist of the Botswana Congress Party, Phagenyana Phage, has waded into the ongoing public debate surrounding opposition cooperation by suggesting it was a grave mistake for his party and the Botswana National Front to admit the newly formed Botswana Movement for Democracy as an equal partner at the opposition negotiations.
Speaking to Sunday Standard, Phage said BMD should have been allowed in only as an affiliate of BNF, BCP or Botswana Peoples Party.
He said BMD has also brought a stigma into opposition politics that could badly affect the performance of BNF and BCP in the next general elections if the older parties do not start working as early as now to decontaminate themselves.
Phage’s comments come in the wake of similar but contextually different comments made by BMD’s policy chief, Ndaba Gaolathe, that the negotiating parties should have a clear senior partner.
But unlike Gaolathe, Phage is of the view that BMD is not yet an opposition party, but rather a breakaway faction of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
“We made a mistake by admitting them into the talks as full partners. We should have allowed them in either as observers or, at the most, as affiliates,” said Phage who made it clear he was not talking for BCP.
“This is my view, not BCP’s. I say it because I feel I would be irresponsible if I did not raise my voice against the disruptive behavior of BMD.”
Phage says because BMD has never gone for elections it is impossible for anyone to really know what their strength is, let alone what constituencies are their strongholds.
“The constituencies which they say are theirs as incumbents are also claimed by the BDP. So who do we believe ÔÇô BMD or BDP? And you cannot dismiss the BDP out of hand because as per the last elections those constituencies were won under the BDP ticket.”
With references of “political refugees” Phage said it’s clear from their language that BMD remains a BDP faction.
“BMD says we should let them lead us because they are used to power. The fact of the matter is that they were in power during their time at BDP. Our view as BCP is that the change of power has to be absolute. BMD should be allowed to stand on their own so that we get to know exactly how popular they are. I am afraid if they stand on their own they may not win a single constituency.”
A founding member of the BCP, Phage does not deny that his party was formed in a similar way when it broke away from the Botswana National Front.
“Motswaledi and Ntuane may be popular but they are nowhere near the popularity of Maitshwarelo Dabutha, Paul Rantao and Gil Saleshando, all of whom lost elections after they defected from the BNF.”
Of the eleven Members of Parliament who defected from the BNF to found the BCP, only Joseph Kavindama made it back into parliament after the elections.
Others, like Rantao and Isaac Mabiletsa, later retraced their steps back to the BNF before they could reenter parliament. Another BCP founding member and former Member of Parliament who has since rejoined the BNF, Mokgweetsi Kgosipula, has not been as lucky. Ever since he lost his parliamentary seat after defecting from the BNF he has not made it back into parliament despite trying his luck a number of times.
Phage said as such it is only a matter of time before some leading BMD members, including Members of Parliament, go back to the ruling BDP as a way of self-preservation.
Phage said both the BNF and BCP risk being deserted by their members if they were to give the BMD the constituencies the new party has demanded at the negotiations.
By their admission, BMD wants to be given 22 constituencies. Their wish list consists of almost all constituencies where older opposition parties have been making inroads over the years.
“People will desert us if we give BMD the constituencies they are demanding. My opinion is that before a refugee is given a citizenship they must first be observed to determine if they meet the criteria. Why are we rushing to give these refugees a full citizenship when we do not even know their real intensions? My view is that for now whether or not BMD is a part of the Umbrella there will be no difference,” said Phage.
Phage has also not spared the convenors of the talks his wrath. He accuses them of pushing a BMD agenda to take over all the constituencies where BCP and BNF have been making headways.
“Instead of always running to the papers, BMD should first establish their true size. As I speak to you now we know the true sizes of the BNF, the BCP and the BPP. I cannot say the same with BMD. This is not the BCP position but I can tell you that we need BNF, not BMD to take over state power.”