Thursday, June 4, 2020

TV cameras in parliament may actually backfire on UDC

Three months before the fact, the Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, has given notice that the Umbrella for Democratic Change will insist that the budget-speech debates should inaugurate an era of TV cameras in parliament.“Too many promises have been made in the past about the live broadcasts and nothing has come to fruition,” said Saleshando, who is the Maun West MP, when responding to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s state-of-the-nation address.

“If the [Botswana Democratic Party] does not deliver on this by the time we get to the 2020 Budget Meeting, I will approach you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Opposition Bench, to allow us to make private arrangements for live-streaming on social media of all presentations by members of the opposition at our cost. I trust that this will not be asking for too much.”With no TV cameras allowed in parliament, what all other MPs have to settle for now is a summary of their contributions through a reconfigured Radio Botswana programme. Before the configuration, MPs would be given an opportunity to restate what they had said on the floor. Some abused this privilege by saying things that they never said to score points or mischaracterized how the other side reacted to what they had said.

While TV cameras would enable MPs to reach the public unfiltered there are also inherent risks. Firstly and as happened not too long ago with the UDC’s own president, TV can expose a leader’s weakness. Duma Boko used language that some found distasteful and there is a theory that that cost the party votes on election day. Ironically, filtering his message as has been the case, actually worked in his favour. Many more MPs on all sides (and especially a particular UDC MP) would be inclined to preen and play to the public gallery when they know a camera is pointed at them. Much of what the Economic Freedom Fighters MPs do in the South African parliament is a direct result of having cameras in parliament.

One section of the viewing public is to blame because it will only watch in large numbers if it is entertained. Another will be repulsed by representatives who choose to entertain than deal somberly with national issues.Secondly and over a long period of time, it has become evident that some MPs can’t handle policy discussions in a substantive manner. Most voters are not thoroughly acquainted with the intellectual pedigree of the candidates they voted into parliament and some will be horrified by what they see on TV. Indeed, most EFF MPs don’t do too well in televised committee meetings where there is no opportunity to be disorderly. This had negatively affected the party’s favourability ratings.Thirdly, now and again parliament has to suspend proceedings because the quorum is not present.

This will expose some MPs who habitually absent themselves from parliament. During a Duma FM debate two years ago, former Bobonong MP, Shaw Kgathi, stated that the UDC president, Duma Boko, who was also participating in the debate, had the worst attendance record of any Leader of the Opposition in the history of the Botswana parliament. Indeed Boko had a spotty attendance record and he didn’t refute what Kgathi said. Voters would be inclined to punish MPs who have a high rate of absenteeism at the next election.

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