Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Saga that is the BDP primary elections

In at least three of my earlier pieces this year I have argued that the biggest challenge facing political parties in Botswana this year is going to be how well they manage both their primary elections and more importantly the after effects of these primary elections. It would appear that more than ever in the history of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) the primary elections of this year are and will be a real mammoth test to the leadership of the party. The first batch of primary elections held in constituencies north of Dibete are proved to be a serious threat to the stability of the party and if the rumour grill is anything to go by, more damaging revelations are yet to emerge. In between have been reports of possible sinister exploits by some central committee members to influence the outcome of the primaries, largely to favour certain candidates. The results of the primaries in the south held this past weekend adds to the controversies emerging out of the BDP primary elections. Let’s refresh our memories a bit, with events that have culminated in the current state of almost chaotic proportions within the BDP.

First was the loss of former Member of Parliament for Francistown West constituency that necessitated the need for a bye election in that constituency. The BDP like all interested parties and the incumbent held its primary elections that produced a winner, but those results were challenged by one of the losing candidates through an urgent application to the high court. The high court upheld the contention and the effect of that ruling was the disqualification of the BDP candidate from registering with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). This triggered a series of three cases before three different judges on effectively the same matter, with the BDP challenging the IEC’s refusal to accept registration of their candidate and related matters. To date the BDP has lost two of those cases and have made urgent appeal (s) to the Court of Appeal and more importantly and of history in the making the office of the president has postponed the Francistown west elections presumably on account of a petition by some electorates from the concerned constituency and also to allow the courts to conclude on the matter. All these presumed to be actions in the best considerations of public interest. There is probably less argument about the legality of all these actions by the BDP and government, but there is a big controversy on the ethical and moral principles purely argued from practical considerations and what is the right principle to uphold even if it means forgoing the legal routes.

The saga around the Francistown West constituency was followed by yet other cynical & somewhat treasonous revelations following the holding of primary elections in the north constituencies. First was reports of loses by five cabinet ministers and deputy speaker of the national assembly, with the sixth cabinet minister temporarily saved by some mysterious hooligans who disrupted the voting process in one of the wards when results indicated a loss for the minister. This weekend the primaries in the south have added three more cabinet to the list of losers from this year’s primary elections. The high number of cabinet ministers and sitting members of parliament (MPs) is probably the highest the party has ever experienced. Although in principle this can simply be interpreted to be the result of elections in any democratic setting, there are deeper implications such as possible rejection of the president’s chosen ministers. There is also the possible break from hitherto known election practices at party level that includes advantaging sitting MPs especially cabinet ministers. This was followed by a series of protests from a hoist of constituencies by both parliamentary and council candidates largely pointing to probably some of the hitherto unknown exploits within the BDP. There were reports of buses ferrying voters from the south ostensibly as a hatched plan by some party leaders to oust certain contestants for reasons that are now emerging through recent rumours. Relatedly, are reports of discoveries of starched or hidden membership cards in Tonota, Masunga area and now Mmadinare Constituencies, fuelling and somewhat justifying the basis for the call for re-runs in most of these constituency.

The ordering of the re-run in the whole Serowe North West constituency is yet another unfolding scenario that has come with the report that although the last voters roll will apparently be used, this will be minus over 800 civil servants who it is argued were not supposed to vote in the primaries as this constitutes active participation in politics. If indeed civil servants were not supposed to vote and now are been removed from the re-run, are there any procedural and legal implications for other constituencies where they have voted? This of course brings into the fore another argument, that is, is it justifiable, morally, legally & even as a matter of political principle to disenfranchise civil servants who are members of the party, but that’s an issue for another day. Lastly, the party president has effectively stripped the central committee of its duties and conferred them on the Electoral Board, with respect to the conduct, management and controlling of the primary elections. This move alone speaks volumes of what exactly could be the magnitude of the problems associated with this year’s party primary elections.

I want for now pick out two issues that are directly emerging from this year’s BDP primary elections and in my view important for the general integrity of any form of elections in this country, particularly political elections. Firstly, is the level and extent of possible unethical conduct of elections in terms of preparations of voter rolls and associated requirements like membership, cards, voter trafficking and just the management of the electoral process. If we agree that as the ruling party, the BDP has a moral duty to uphold the accepted principles of fairness, credible & free as well as respect for the overall democratic practices, then it is a worrisome development that the party’s primary elections smacks all this in the face and that should worry the nation.

Lastly, the type of hostility amongst and between candidates of the same party to the extent of wanting others to win/lose at all costs including tampering with the electoral processes is an equally worrying development. If fellow democrats can go to these extents to eliminate/cheat each other, how much more can they do when dealing with opposition challengers at the general elections?

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Sunday Standard August 9 – 15

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 9 - 15, 2020.