The 3rd meeting of the 3rd session of the 10th Parliament began this past Tuesday. It was just another cold winter with little suggestion that, once again, the nation will be facing another debacle especially amongst our parties in the opposition ranks. This time around the drama centred on the vacant position of leader of opposition (Loo) in the House.
The genesis of the latest fiasco can safely be traced to Botsalo Ntuane’s defection from the BMD to the ruling party ÔÇô who until a fortnight ago occupied the Leader of Opposition position. As I indicated in the last instalment, Ntuane’s defection left many Batswana wondering about the state of our democracy. The simplicity and frequency in the way our politicians move from one party to another left many citizens unsure about the credibility of such a crop of leaders. Many of our people actually are uncertain ÔÇô and rightly so ÔÇô if the current leaders are well equipped to move this nation ahead for the betterment of ordinary people’s lives. But our leaders come across like self-centred individuals who care less about representing the interests of their constituents. To them it is ‘everyman for himself, and god for us all.’
The focus of this instalment, however, is on our governance instruments. To be sure, we are a celebrated democracy amongst many developing countries particularly in the sub-Saharan Africa region. Indeed, we have been a leading beacon of light in a continent otherwise renowned for undemocratic forms of government. It’s true we became what we are because of the kind of leadership we had. But more than the human element, we have been able to craft governance instruments that have allowed us to forge a relatively functional republic. That is, we have been able to craft relatively strong institutions to guide our leaders in the governance process.
Despite the success we have enjoyed over the years as a nation, our institutions ÔÇô not only limited to the physical structures of power but broadly covering rules and process – have not been so responsive enough to adapt to new challenges in the wider environment. At times we have been too slow to respond to a very clear need for an improvement on our governing instruments. A case in point will be the wider and regular calls for a constitutional review to reflect on contemporary realities/developments. The sad reality has been that as a nation we are at risk of falling behind new democracies in the continent.
Not surprisingly, the developments of this week before our national parliament suggest that our democracy is still a ‘work in progress’. Indeed, a lot is still yet to be done before we can claim to be a mature democracy. Yes we can lay claim to be the oldest democracy in the continent but that alone is not enough. We have a greater challenge collectively as a people in terms of improving on the quality of our political system. This reality played out before the current session of the National Assembly in which its Speaker, Margret Nasha, was presented with a greater test of deciding the official opposition in parliament. She was caught in a tricky situation which was a result of ubiquity of the parliamentary Standing Orders.
The departure of Ntuane created a vacancy of the Loo. For the coalition in parliament they had expected that such an opening will be filled by an MP from the BNF. Actually, the name of Kanye South legislator, Abram Kesupile, was circulated in the local press as the next Loo. However, the BCP also had an interest as a party with majority of MPs in the House. Accordingly, Nasha had to act when parliament resumed last week. It was not an easy decision to make. According to the Mmegi newspaper, Nasha revealed that after reading Ntuane’s resignation letter from the Loo post, she consulted legal brains intensely to find answers on the future of the vacant position (04 July, 2012).
This is where it gets interesting. After the legal brains failed to provide a clear and definitive answer, Nasha called all opposition MPs to resolve the issue on Wednesday. To her, the matter could only be resolved by opposition parties themselves, that is, the BCP which has seven MPs and the coalition of the BMD and the BNF with eight MPs. After a long debate, it would seem that there was no agreement between the opposition parties. Sadly, the impediment proved to be parliamentary Standing Orders. This point is also highlighted by the Speaker when she addressed the House later in the day noting that, ‘it is evident that the provisions lack clarity, especially pertaining to the status and position of a coalition formation.’ (The Voice, 06 July, 2012)
Ultimately, Nasha made her call. To her, ‘while provisions of the Standing Order 9.3 read together with 9.3.1 and 7.4 make provision for a leader of the opposition to be spokesperson for a coalition, the said provisions are however ambiguous, with respect to the appointment of a leader of the opposition where there is a coalition that is not inclusive of all Opposition parties in the House’ (The Voice, 06 July, 2012). In her considered view, the BCP as a single party with majority MPs was declared the official opposition in the House.
The Speaker’s decision raised a number of pertinent questions that have serious implications for our democratic development. But more than anything else, her decision suggested that to be a mature democracy we need to strengthen our governance instruments. It is sad that as an older democracy in the continent we are unable to amicably resolve such a simple matter. If the provisions are not clear where the coalition does not include all opposition parties (or whatever the case might be) one would have expected that we maintain the status quo while at the same time we develop/update specific Standing Orders. More importantly, it does not do anybody justice to look at the referee to determine the outcome of the game. As such, I think as a nation we need to constantly revisit the rules of the game so that they are better placed to deal with eminent and emerging challenges we face as a nation. In doing so, we will be able continuously promote the culture of democracy which we have come to be known for across the world.
*Molefhe teaches Public administration at University of Botswana