It is generally believed that the period shortly after a general election is important in separating chancers from serious contenders to the throne.
Essentially it is expected that serious contenders would, immediately after an election, proudly pick up the pieces, get over their costly poor judgments, use criticism to introspect, reconfigure their electoral strategies and establish a momentum for the next general election as though they never participated in a gruelling and depressing campaign.
Feeling ashamed and hiding from voters is the stuff of pretenders and freeloaders.
It is well over six months since Batswana went to the polls and returned the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to power. In that election, the opposition collective, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) suffered a dispiriting defeat after appearing to be on a roll.
Some voters even feared that the coalition was teetering on the brink of collapse after squandering another glorious chance at the last hurdle. Since then, the UDC has not really done much to reassure voters that it still remains the only viable alternative.
Instead, its rancorous operatives have been in mean mood blaming voters and everyone except themselves, while also paradoxically citing massive rigging for the coalition’s miserable performance.
They have been violently reminding voters that since we (voters) have renewed the BDP’s license to govern for another 5 years, we should not complain when our lives become miserable to a point where we plead with our creator to recall us from mother earth due to the corrupt practices of the ruling establishment and their expatriate friends.
As has become a custom, the UDC does not want to take responsibility for their underperformance or at least part of it, with the aim of reducing the commission of errors at the next election.
Typical of people who blame others for our own costly behaviours, UDC functionaries have opted to question why their leaders have to be held to the highest standards of personal discipline and be expected to be above reproach in all their ways while the ruling party leaders and functionaries always get away with murder for serious crimes.
They conveniently accuse the media and commentators for boosting the electoral prospects of the corrupt and heartless BDP by subjecting the UDC and its leaders to negative coverage and critical scrutiny.
This culture of blame is of course anchored on the expectation by the opposition that they are logically entitled to support from a majority of voters given that the BDP is the ancestral hub of corruption and a repository for dishonest politicians.
It has to be noted that while the UDC has established itself as a formidable unit, it need to acknowledge that voters, especially the unaffiliated, will always demand the coalition’s leaders to be almost perfect and faultless in whatever they do or say owing to issues of trust, after the opposition had messed up its chances at the last hurdle as many times as Botswana had held general elections.
Rather than being annoyed at what they consider unfair treatment by voters who expect them to be as disciplined and principled as those in charge of government, the UDC must endeavour to enhance its national profile by demanding their members, especially those in leadership positions to maintain the highest levels of self-restraint, persistence and discipline.
The reality is that the UDC has a constitutional role to fill and many voters are grateful that it has done well to save the economy from being run down by a corrupt syndicate with no limits on economic crime.
However, the UDC should know that they will still have to persuade, plead with and convince voters that they can be trusted and can do better than the visibly tired but frighteningly greedy BDP family.
In this sense, the UDC must rethink its strategy of obsessing with the BDP internal problems and inflammatory politics because such celebrations easily succumb to the passage of time.
Of course the UDC has every right to derive pleasure from generating and amplifying a narrative that the BDP’s hold on power is coming to an end through natural wastage, but this is only as far as it does make them feel better.
What is important is for the UDC to keep to a clear sense of purpose and be prepared to pounce big whenever opportunities present themselves. Lately, the BDP and its president have been in the news for the wrong reasons.
From allegations of grand corruption; president Masisi’s business deals; DIS P15 million unpaid bill for rigging elections, through to embarrassing fights for the control of COVID-19 food parcels, the BDP troubles have really made life sweeter for their opponents.
With the media relentless in its role of watchdog, the opposition has been feasting on and mocking the BDP left, right and centre with consummate delight. Yet, the UDC seems ill-prepared to take full advantage and oust the BDP regime mainly because of their preference for spectacle politics underpinned by a craving for goading and ridiculing the voter.
In spite the of the damaging media revelations and chilling allegations and in spite that such revelations continue to damage the reputation of the ruling establishment, the UDC is failing to assert itself as a more competent alternative because all they do is mock and embarrass voters, especially those who are not considered opposition proper, by taunting them to show up their hands and stand up to defend the glorious thieves.
The failure by the UDC to take advantage of the BDP’s harrowing misfortunes defies logic and points to a coalition that is not really eager to put the BDP on trial but very excited at blaming voters for its failures.
A common adage is that opposition parties do not win elections, ruling parties lose them. The ruling BDP has done everything possible to lose state power but the formidable yet self-destructive UDC always saves them from voters’ fury.
Ultimately, voters are starting to raise uncomfortable questions about the purpose and direction of the coalition and this could culminate in an exodus of voters from the UDC. In political warfare, the ability to pounce when an opportunity avails itself is what defines a serious and determined opponent. No man ever had a child by simply celebrating the beauty of his woman.
So far, the UDC has done well to oppose some evil government policies, often presenting sound alternative policies some of which the BDP has plagiarised. However, the UDC must ensure that they take their members along to the battlefield so that its actions present a truly united people-centred movement.
At the moment, one gets a feeling that the leadership and a select club of loud-mouthed party functionaries hold the view that they are more rational than ordinary members hence are entitled to make weighty decisions without honest engagement with members.
This behaviour hugely undermines the worth of ordinary members in the coalition’s bid to dislodge the BDP from state power and to a greater extent renders them idiots who just have to defend and praise their leaders for whatever they do and say under the sun.
Engaging members in decision making, especially decisions with far-reaching implications would make it easy for the members to buy into the decisions made including very unpopular decisions like enlisting scandalous individuals.
Additionally, the participation of party members in decision making processes would ensure that decisions are interrogated so that the coalition does not jump excitedly into dismissing government policies and risk public outrage because some BDP policies tend to be very popular with the voters across the political divide.
Thus, the UDC has to be careful about what and how they dismiss government initiatives lest they find themselves at odd with their own members and guest voters. This demand that the UDC choose its battles wisely so that it portrays itself a government-in-waiting rather than as an opposition outfit that simply exist to make life difficult for the ruling establishment.
It is a fact that ruling parties enjoy monopoly of state power and resources. Thus, the logic of competitive democracy would dictates that those competitors who are disadvantaged by the ruling party’s unlimited access to state resources be granted unconditional free, sympathetic votes in order to show appreciation of their circumstances and spur them on to fulfil their constitutional role.
While this makes sense, it nevertheless depends on the ability of the opposition to assert its status as a competent alternative government through selfless leadership that is responsive to criticism.
The fact that the ruling party manages public resources all alone and that they should answer for society’s woes does not take away the moral and political blameworthiness of the leadership of the opposition. Their mere disadvantage should not shield them from criticism and negative coverage.
On this score, the UDC must decisively deal with the leadership question as best as they can so that they not only boast of a lettered leadership but more crucially an ethical leadership that won’t easily get tempted to collude with the enemy if only to secure certain niceties. Crucially, it is a mark of greatness to know when to speak up and when to shut up!