If the parties involved in the negotiations decide to opt for an alliance, modeled along the lines of the South African Tripartite Alliance (SATA), it would mean that they would all agree to contest national elections under the umbrella of a central party. It goes without saying that the central party under which they would contest the elections, would, in all likelihood be the dominant one ÔÇô being the BNF. The question is what efficacy would this arrangement have and to what extent would this arrangement be workable.
For electoral purposes a model of the nature of the Tripartite Alliance, is, practically speaking, an affiliation to the central party. This is so, because, whereas the ‘junior’ parties continue to retain their organizational identity, such identity is obliterated come election time, as their supporters and candidates would be expected to adopt the colours, symbols and slogans of the central party.
The BNF Constitution for one has provision for group membership. Based on the notion of a multi-organization united front when it was conceived, the arrangement must have envisaged organizations, other than political parties, affiliating to the BNF. With passage of the time however, as the BNF started experiencing splintering, resulting in the formation of new small parties, these ended up being admitted into the BNF as group members. My understanding of the arrangement of group membership under the BNF is that it is designed to expand that organization’s support base.
In an interview with Mmegi Staffer, Mesh Moeti (Mmegi 25th February 2005), the following except is attributed to BNF President, Otsweletse Moupo, on the question of group membership:-
“… this arrangement was meant to broaden the BNF’s mass base, by making it possible for organizations with essentially similar objectives to affiliate to it.” He says it was never meant to be an instrument of convenience to resolve apparently intractable tactical problems such as opposition unity. “In any event” he says ‘it would be politically inadvisable for the BNF to encourage other parties to follow that route lest it be accused of displaying a big brother attitude”.
An alliance that would require other parties to contest elections on BNF ticket would be oblivious of the identity formulation of such parties. Perhaps risking over-simplification, political parties in liberal democracies are formed for the core business of contesting elections.
If parties discard this object, (of contesting elections in their own right) there is a real risk of such parties completely losing their political significance, for one would ask himself why he should be a member of the junior party when he is not permitted to contest elections under the ticket of that party. He might as well just join the party he would ultimately contest elections under.
I entirely agree with Otsweletse Moupo that a group membership arrangement for purposes of inter party cooperation, would be construed as a display of big brother mentality. Similarly, an alliance of the form of the Tripartite Alliance under our conditions would be similarly construed.
In South Africa, as it has been shown, the historical evolution of the alliance partners, led to a symbiotic relationship between them and this has made the alliance workable. Arguments are being raised now, however, as to the present functional utility of this alliance under the new dispensation.
The new dispensation saw the ANC led alliance assuming state power in 1994. Since then, the new government has followed liberal centrist democratic formula of institutionalization. The so-called “historic compromise” (as many in the alliance called it at the time) was in fact an anti-thesis of the dominant perspective that had historically guided SACP and COSATU. Although SACP and COSATU accepted, albeit cautiously, the “historic compromise”, signs of political and organizational restlessness started emerging within the Alliance. These included, the 1993 move by the National Union of Mineworkers to secede COSATU from the Alliance after the 2004 elections.
It is submitted that there is no symbiosis between the four parties engaged in the present talks. Their respective historical evolutions, is, with some of them, completely parallel and without any convergence. As regards the BNF and the BCP, the recent turbulent history of these two organizations, militates against the efficacy of a Tripartite Alliance ÔÇô style relationship.
It has been shown (in Part 6 of this series) that during its development, to date, leaders of the partners comprising the Tripartite Alliance strand the leadership core of the constituent organizations. An alliance, for it to work, would require the BNF to completely restructure, so as to accommodate the disparate ideologies espoused by other parties, some of which are liberal.
The re-structuring of the BNF and the re-formulation of its ideology might require that the principle of minimum and maximum program ÔÇô a hallmark of “Front Politics” ÔÇô be done away with. There is a sizeable voice within other parties, that the structural arrangement of a front causes internal instability of an organization, for there is endless pushing and shuffling as one tendency tries to outwit the others so as to gain control of the front. Front-skeptics are quick to attribute the incessant splits
within the BNF to its apparent lack of homogeneity on the so-called maximum program.
For this reason, other partners might not be willing to be part of a BNF led alliance, with the present structural and ideological framework of this organization.
The foregoing arguments raise vexed questions, all of which boil down to power-sharing willingness on the part of coalition players. It need be conceded that whatever the model of cooperation, all parties, more especially the BNF ÔÇô for it is the bigger partner ÔÇô will have to surrender a substantial amount of political ground, in varying degrees. Are the present coalition players prepared to do this?
*Dick Bayford is the President of New Democratic Front and a practising attorney. This article is a segment of a Discussion Paper he authored entitled, SO, WHAT KIND OF COOPERATION? ÔÇô A RESURGENCE OF COALITION POLITICS IN BOTSWANA.