The events of the past week left many Batswana wondering about the state of our democracy. In particular, the defection of Botsalo Ntuane from the BMD to the ruling party summed up everything unique about our polity. Here is a man who just two year ago bolted out of the ruling party claiming that the party has lost touch with reality. BDP, under the leadership of President Khama, he argued was suddenly a living monster, which fell short of an autocratic regime. Against that context, Ntuane and others decided to part ways with the ruling party.
On Tuesday last week, the unthinkable happened. Botsalo Ntuane rejoined the BDP. This was not just another defection. Ntuane, who until then was the Leader of the Opposition in parliament, finally retraced his footsteps back to the ruling party. Not only was he occupying the Leader of Opposition position, he was the BMD Vice President and its founding member. In this regard, this has been a very high profile defection ÔÇô it reminded me of Musa Kusa, Libya’s foreign minister who in March 2011 fled to London. He was the most senior regime figure to abandon Moammar Gaddafi’s government, having been Libya’s intelligence chief for 15 years. Thus, Ntuane’s defection was a big issue in our small country.
But, unlike Musa Kusa, Ntuane’s defection was not undertaken in a context of war. He was not fleeing an authoritarian regime (in this case the BMD) but was simply retracing his steps to join those in charge of our republic. In that regard, the specific mode and direction of his defection fits well within the principles of democracy. He got fed up with life in the opposition and exercised choice. As the BCPYL succinctly indicated, ‘everyone joins a political party where his interests can be better served and that there is nothing wrong with changing sides from section of a political spectrum to another.’ In short, Ntuane was within his constitutional right to jump ship.
Although it’s undisputable that Ntuane was excising his constitutional right in switching parties, one would have thought that he will offer an explanation for such an action. Come-on, even Musa Kusa offered reasons for his defection. But Ntuane opted to keep quiet. A predictable silence was all that we got. I read his statement hoping to get something. I mean, just something. But nothing came out of it. To be fair, he mentions very little that could have forced him to abandon ship. All that he does is to remind us that his action follows ‘a period of intense soul searching.’ More than anything else, he wants us to believe that this was the most difficult decision in his entire life thus far. I mean, get serious! Unless you are hiding something from us, this decision would turn out to be one of the easiest to make for majority of us.
Ntuane’s silence, however, did not bring this matter to rest. It was therefore not surprising that both print and electronic media in the country was awash with various commentary all trying to assess the implication of this move particularly for the ruling party and the opposition in general. There are those who perceive this move as a plus for the ruling party. Ntuane, we are told, is a savvy political strategist who would make a huge difference in restoring the fortunes of the ruling party. His arrival would bridge the gap/vacuum which was created when the young and educated next generation of the party potential leaders left for the BMD. Very few perceived his move as counterproductive for the ruling party.
As far as the opposition was concerned, Ntuane’s defection raised interesting responses. Actually, while pondering on purported benefits or lack thereof his move, I immediately thought of the paternity article I penned in this publication last month. In the same article I tried to better understand the behavior of our different opposition parties on matters that are supposed to be of mutual interest to them. Unfortunately, the opposition rank did not come across as a united front that clearly understood that the BDP was the common ‘enemy’ for them as far as their wishes for attainment of state power was concerned. Instead, the conclusion reached was that ours was a confused lot that try to score political points against each other and, in the process, only advance BDP interests more than theirs. Some in the opposition ranks appeared much ‘closer’ to the ruling party than their opposition counterparts. And this is what get many Batswana worried.
This ‘closeness’ with the BDP once again came to the fore in the latest defection by Ntuane. The defection did not come as a shock but you could tell that some opposition parties felt hard-hit.
Expectedly, for the BMD, it was a painful experience. The party president, Gomolemo Motswaledi, summed up the mood noting that ‘it is a painful experience but not a fatal blow to the BMD’ (The Voice, June 22, 2012). The same applied to the umbrella partners. BNF President, Duma Boko, tried to limit the damage arguing that, ‘there is no need for the umbrella members to panic because Ntuane has simply returned to where he belongs.’ In this sense, both the BMD and its umbrella partners were relieved to see the back of Ntuane. Finally, they would no longer be pestered with questions to confirm or deny rumors of imminent defection by him.
The interesting response was from the BCPYL. On the day of the defection, they immediately released a press statement to various media houses which suggested that Ntuane’s defection was an indictment on the BMD and the umbrella project. In the same press release, they expressed in loud and clear terms that what Ntuane did was commendable! I mean, they find this a praiseworthy action just because one has a constitutional right to do so? I guess by the course of the week they realized their mistake as instanced by new press release that reads differently. The updated version, this time around, did not find Ntuane’s defection as commendable; instead, they perceive his actions as interesting. Talk of cheap politicking and confusion.
In addition, the BCPYL also see continuous defections of high profile politicians from the BNF and BMD as clear indications that there is no hope in the two parties or the umbrella. Give me a break.
This is the same party that was formed by defectors. It is still being reinforced, if any, by the same defection process. Isn’t it interesting that we suddenly see a convergence of views and positions by the ruling party and the BCP instead of the latter sharing position on Ntuane’s defection as other opposition parties? Why is the BCP on a victory lap when the opposition has lost a person of Ntuane’s caliber? Perhaps, as I indicated in my previous article, the use of a paternity test might prove handy in terms of helping us to better understand current relationships between our opposition parties.
I still think we need to scratch beneath the surface for us to know the truth.