For a party that has never witnessed so many presidential candidates ahead of a general election since formation, the race overcrowding shows that as president, Ian Khama dismally failed to rule by consensus around the many appointments he was vested with as his prerogative to make, much to the chagrin of many party members.
It further points to a lack of confidence not only on the President of the party himself, but extends to the heir apparent, Vice-president Mokgweetsi Masisi who is expected to take over the baton when Khama finally retires at the end of his last presidential term on account of the automatic succession constitutional provision.
Unpacking the overcrowding of the presidential race on Ian Khama’s legacy as both President of the country and his ruling party, political commentator Anthony Morima believes that as president, Khama failed during his tenure to rule by consensus around the appointments he made.
The fact that so many candidates want to contest against Khama’s chosen successor shows lack of confidence not only the heir apparent but the president himself.
“Many in the BDP believe that HH Masisi is not yet politically mature to be Vice President, let alone president. They believe he rose to the Vice Presidency not on merit, but on boot licking”, said Morima.
He explained that to the best of his knowledge, the party vice president, especially after the amendment of Botswana’s constitution to allow for automatic succession, has stood for elections unopposed.
“Therefore, now that there are likely to be about six candidates for the BDP presidency in the run-up to the 2019 general elections it is fair to say the BDP presidential race prior to the 2019 general elections will for the for the first time be overcrowded”, said Morima.
While some BDP party members are apprehensive that the overcrowding may not be healthy for their party whose popularity has been on a free fall, Morima takes a divergent view that in a democracy, plural competition is always healthy since it gives the voter a wider pool to choose from. It also brings satisfaction on the party members that their preferred candidates have an opportunity to participate in the elections.
“It is, therefore, unlikely that this overcrowding will affect the BDP adversely. In fact this overcrowding started with the elections for the party chairperson, but it has not been detrimental to the party since most of those who lost accepted the results. It is unlikely that that those who lose presidential elections will not accept the results and do anything detrimental to the party”, said Morima.
His view is not however shared by some BDP members who fear that some democrats may defect to the opposition if their preferred candidate lose especially if they feel the playing grounded has not been level as it happened with the chairmanship where there vice-president used public resources for his campaign while others his competitors had to fund their own campaign.
“This scenario is likely to repeat itself in the presidential race and could cause serious dissent and instability within the party at critical time of going to the general election. The anger this could brew may not be easy to manage leading to defections and voter apathy which may not be healthy for the party” said a BDP member who is not authorized to publicly air his views to the media in terms of the party constitution.
Other plausible interpretations to the overcrowding could also be an indication of the party’s inner democracy. According to Morima, he said although in the past there was no bar no many candidates to contest which can be referred to as lack of inner party democracy, in his view the reason there may many candidates this time around is more to do with the view that Masisi is not the best candidate to secure the BDP electoral victory.
Morima holds the view that most of those likely to contest the party presidency believe they were overlooked when Masisi was nominated and could covertly de-campaign him if they do not defect in protest which will not be healthy for the given that there will not be sufficient time to heal the subsequent rift.
“It may become a catch 22 for the party. Mind you, there are still some within the party who are still angry that failure by the party leadership to heal the Bulela Ditswe rift caused the decline in 2014 general election fortunes. It is worrying that this trend is emerging at a time that when there will not be sufficient time to deal with dissenting voices and broker an amicable solution”, said the democrat adding that the general election will just be around the corner without sufficient time to counsel the aggrieved and ensure that they do not stay away from the polls or possible defect to the opposition which has been gaining ground.
As for others, they believe it will be good for Masisi to consolidate his base and support within the party so that when he eventually ascends to the presidency of the party, he enjoys massive popular support which will make his governance seamless.
Some democrats are even fearful that if there is instability within the party, that will work in favour of the opposition which is watching all developments with the BDP with keen interest and if there is instability within the party, they would pounce and capitalize on those differences.
Morima on the other hand believes that the opposition should also demonstrate that like the BDP, it promotes inner party democracy. “This it can do by also having credible and open elections for its party president in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. If the opposition decides to have a so-called consensus president without holding elections, the BDP may use it against the opposition accusing it of lack of inner party card”.
A voter who is non-aligned said he will be watching both the BDP and the opposition closely before the 2019 general election so that he uses whatever democratic deficiencies that either party will have in order to make an informed decision on who to vote based on its democratic credentials.
He holds the firm view that the opposition should at all cost guard against committing similar blunders to those of the BDP and prove its worth that can uplift the living standards of all Batswana without fear and favour.
The very test that the BDP will be subjected to will also apply to the opposition because ordinary Batswana are looking for long term solutions.