Sunday, April 2, 2023

Punish ‘Umbrella’, Vote Independent

The last headline of Mmegi at the end of last year, coinciding with the date that the opposition parties gave for the conclusion of unity talks, rang: Umbrella collapses.

Leader of the opposition Botswana Movement for Democracy, Gomolemo Motswaledi said on radio that the negotiating parties had betrayed the country’s electorate by failing to conclude an agreement that would announce a collective effort of the opposition going to the 2014 general election.

The word on the street is that Duma Boko of the Botswana National Front is also positively disposed towards the early achievement of a pact that would take the opposition to 2014.

Dumelang Saleshando has been quoted telling the interviewer at Btv that the opposition would go to the general election under one organisation with a single symbol.

It seems then that there is disagreement between the sentiments of the opposition party leaders and a section of membership of the organisations, including delegates to the negotiating table. It can be speculated that: –

A successfully negotiated ‘Umbrella’ agreement automatically guarantees the party leaders a secure position whatever the outcome of the 2014 general election. They will most likely have been elected as parliamentarians, or they will hold other positions that will allow them personal prosperity and privilege commensurate with their positions at their respective parties. They know, more than any other in their parties, the greater advantage that they would gain from the real likelihood that a joint opposition could win at the next election.

The top rung of the leadership in the opposition parties possibly recognises the advantageous prospects of the Umbrella, but they want a guarantee for their personal interest equal to that of the party leaders. Rather than see the agreement on the Umbrella as a beginning point for further negotiation of the distribution of constituencies, they see the shuffling of constituencies as the basis for the establishment of the umbrella.

It is not surprising then, that the national chairperson of the BMD, a former stalwart of the BNF ‘left’, Nehemiah Modubule, reported on Duma FM, that disagreement on five constituencies, was the cause of the ‘collapse’ of the unity talks. Since this is speculation, it can be guessed that the ‘five’ constituencies were far more important to the group of aspiring parliamentarians in the four parties ÔÇô with the exception of the Botswana Peoples Party ÔÇô who might sabotage the Umbrella if it did not guarantee their interests. There is the threat that they would have condemned Modubule and the leaders of the leaders of delegations for entering into an agreement that suited them whilst failing the aspirants in the five constituencies.

The failure of the chief spokespersons of the opposition, the party presidents, reneged on their responsibility to report on progress, gave the private press the opportunity to follow their natural inclination, to follow the scepticism of the state controlled press, to cast aspersions on the prospects of successful negotiations for an opposition umbrella agreement. The private press shaped the vocabulary of reportage on the negotiations, scouting among their friends in the negotiating parties for information that would prove the preconceived notion that the talks would fail. The negotiators did not only oblige, they wrote their own dissertations in the papers, speaking for the failure of the talks the success of which they were made responsible. And all that remained was for the party leaders to appear after the ‘collapse’ to mend the damage and to reassure the electorate that it was not their fault and the talks would continue.

The humble, Motswaledi apologised on radio for what he believed was an exaggeration of the crisis at the negotiations: “Collapse was too strong a word. We did not achieve what we expected but that was not a collapse, it was (a disappointing setback).”
The opposition parties will be encouraged to live up to the title ‘opposition’. Historically, the opposition took the shape of guilds, women’s organisations and ‘single agenda’ organisations that stood against abuse on the farms and the factory spaces.

It was the powerful landlords and capitalist who arrested the revolutionary progression of the ‘people’s organisations by organising ‘political parties’ in which only they had access to leadership, denying the propertiless, black folk and women the vote.
The growth of capitalism provided the economic basis on which the liberal elements of the capitalists were prepared to finance alternative world views that supported the participation of the women, Africans and people of little or no means to participate in the electoral process.

This has worked out well for the rich societies of the West ÔÇô in America and England ÔÇô where the system that allowed a multiplicity of political parties to evolve into two party systems such as the Democratic Party and the Republicans in the United States, and in England, the Labour and Conservative parties. One or two parties operate on the fringes .

Botswana’s democracy is supported by a small economy, a small population and for many years, a petite intelligentsia.
This could account for the blurred dividing line between the political parties; all of the opposition organisations and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. The BDP, from the onset, identified itself with capitalism and the political interests of the nations that borrowed the government aid and other forms of assistance.

None of the opposition parties have been willing to make a complete break with the ideological position of the BDP, identifying themselves with the interests of the working class which carries the major burden of providing for the infirm, the aged, the unemployed and uneducated.

This could account for the ambivalence of the negotiating teams at the Umbrella talks: They want to share the space that the BDP occupies. They would rather fight for constituencies than for an alternative system of government that will favour the poor and disenfranchised.

Should that be the case, then the electorate ÔÇô which consists of the poor and disadvantage ÔÇô could punish them:-
One way is to look for the best at the BDP and vote for them, ignoring all candidates of the opposition parties
Another way ÔÇô more principled ÔÇô is for opposition followers not to vote at all.

The best and most difficult way is for the opposition supporters to identify good, independent candidates in their constituencies for whom they will campaign and vote, ignoring the BDP and opposition political parties.

The first option achieves the desired purpose of punishing the opposition but it also rewards the BDP for 45 years of uninterrupted rule which cannot be good for democracy.
The second option turns the opposition section of the electorate into a passive voice that leaves the once-in-five-years opportunity to be decided for them by the ruling party electorate. That can only bring more of the same.

The third and preferred option demands a greater sense of activism among the opposition supporters, challenging them to seek the best among them ÔÇô the best – to stand in all the constituencies where they will speak for the people who nominated them to stand.

The ‘independent candidates will campaign on both sides of the political divide; seeking the BDP and the opposition vote. He or she will campaign for ‘good’ leadership and not for party affiliation.

This method of campaign will punish the ruling party and the failing opposition parties, also giving a voice to that part of the electorate which has voted for change and democracy without success in the last 46 years.


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