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Home » News » Politics » BDP faces “anti-BDP vote” as Masisi ascends

BDP faces “anti-BDP vote” as Masisi ascends

Publishing Date : 22 May, 2017

Author : ALFRED MASOKOLA

The Tlokweng bye-election results signal that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has not endeared itself to the voters ever since the 2014 general elections in which the party performance reached its lowest in history. With the same approach, same policies and refusal to adopt reforms since 2014, incoming president Mokgweetsi Masisi has a huge burden to bear— writes ALFRED MASOKOLA. 

 
Not only is Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) faced with succession plan battles within its ranks but also, apparent signs indicate that the party has not introspected and geared to project itself better ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections. In less than 10 months from now, President Lt Gen Ian Khama will be leaving office marking end to 20 years era in the BDP.


A BDP stalwart recently confided to this publication that the results of the recent bye-election is a sign, though they may not publicly admit,  that the party has lost touch with the masses. “It was an anti-BDP vote. We are unpopular and if we don’t stem the tide we will be out [of power] in 2019,” he said regarding the Tlokweng bye-election.  Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won the constituency with 4635 votes against BDP’s 2156- a margin of 2479 votes.


A few months ago, former party secretary general, Jacob Nkate conceded that the BDP needed to change its approach in the manner that it does business with the electorates. “I think the BDP needs to reconnect with the people; to have a message that resonates with the people. I do not think people are hearing us; we need to re-message and recalibrate. We need to understand what the biggest concern of the people is. We need to hear the people and people should hear us,” he told this publication then.


“Unemployment: huge problem, we must be able to say to people what we are doing. Health; in a lot of hospitals in Botswana, people are sleeping on the floor and in passages. I am not criticising my party. I am saying let us talk about these issues.”
Nkate had said the entire government machinery is engulfed by problems which people are not happy about, something which he said BDP should swiftly move to address if it is to endear itself to the voters again


The former Minister of Education had also advised that, BDP should start having an honest and open discussion with the unions. “A government that sits and sulks for five years against the workers of the country is not going to succeed, because if the workers themselves sulk the same way, then the government is not going to go forward,” he contended. Nkate was part and parcel of the BDP that withered the storm in 1999 having arrived in parliament in 1994.


Botsalo Ntune, the incumbent secretary general had also proposed political and electoral reforms with the hope of revitalising the party but the suggested reforms have been received with cold reception and suspicion rather. This is despite the fact that the idea of introducing reforms was adopted by delegates at the 2015 Mmadinare congress.


Not only has Ntuane sensed danger in the party continuing with business as usually recently, he made efforts to appease two factions into adopting a compromise in order to preserve party unity ahead of 2019. The suggestion has also been rejected by both factions.


The rejection of appealing reforms has however been met with self-defeating laws and policies. Recently, the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) collapsed owing to the perceived government bad will toward the civil service. Government and Botswana Federation of Public Service Union (BOFEPUSU) continue to fight, with the latter recently declaring political support for the opposition, UDC. Between 2014 and now, BDP has fared dismally in bye-elections, winning only two council seats out of 11 contested so far.


In the interim, BDP has pursued the same policies and used the same approach which saw its popularity falling to its lowest since independence. Meanwhile opposition has gained ground and advantage of BDP’s failure to reform and reposition itself.  Amid rising unemployment and jaded economy, BDP is failing to attract new voters to its ranks.


The political climate has been changing ever since 2009 general elections. BDP effortlessly won the 2009 general election winning more constituencies compared to the previous general election. The crisis which BNF was engulfed in saw BDP making inroads in the former’s territory. For the first time since 1979, BNF found itself without a constituency in Gaborone. That year, BDP’s popular vote increased by two percent from the previous elections.


The watershed moment for opposition parties was 2010, the in which BDP split, resulting in the formation of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD); in that particularly year, Human Rights lawyer Duma Boko assumed the leadership of BNF while Dumelang Saleshando succeeded his father as leader of Botswana Congress Party (BCP). However, with opposition evidently gaining popularity at the expense of the ruling party, the BDP has remained antagonistic to prospects of introducing countering reforms.  


Khama’s rise to the presidency came in the back of political and electoral reforms initiated by BDP following the 1994 general election.  The year had thrown the party into a vulnerable state and for the first time since independence the prospect of BDP losing power became real. Botswana National Front (BNF), the only opposition party then had risen from three seats to 13 seats in parliament, an unprecedented growth in opposition ranks back then.   The result meant, BNF needed only eight seats in the next general elections (1999) to dethrone BDP.


BDP 1995 POLITICAL AND ELECTORAL REFORMS


With the BDP dismal performance in 1994, came the reforms. The party was going through gravest crisis in the party owing two factional wars tearing the party asunder.  President Quett Masire was expected to leave office after the 1994 general elections but the internal bickering in the party compelled him to stay longer. The arrival of a new batch of independent intellects and Young Turks in the party offered a new dimension to the party.

 

Many believed, owing to the 1994 general elections performance, Masire could not lead the party to the next general elections, but the battle of succession made it impossible for BDP to retain power in 1999 under those circumstances. In 1992, Festus Mogae had ascended to the Vice Presidency following the resignation of Peter Mmusi owing to his implication in a land corruption scandal.

 

Mogae’s succession was however not viewed as permanent and none of the two factions saw him as the ultimate successor to the throne. However, the 1995 Sebele Special Congress put that debate to rest. When the delegates dispersed, the party had agreed to key reforms; that the Vice President will ascend to the presidency automatically when the sitting president leaves office; and that a presidential term will only be limited to 10 years. These two key reforms were necessary to reinvigorate the party and reposition it ahead of the 1999 general election.


Ahead of 1999 general elections, BDP engaged South African based political consultant Lawrence Schlemmer to offer prognosis on the party. The Schlemmer report found out that BDP factions were tearing the party apart and would make it impossible for BDP to stay in power if the status quo remained. The report then recommended that the party brings within its fold someone who was respected and untainted to help unite the party.

 

That description fit the then Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander and popular chief of Bangwato Ian Khama. His arrival in the BDP galvanised and restored BDP’s popularity. The famous “Khama Magic” was the aura and charisma which Khama used in appealing to the masses and rallying votes to the BDP banner.


MASISI’S PRESIDENCY


Masisi will become the third beneficiary of automatic succession constitutional dispensation next year when Khama leaves office. But his succession will not be a breeze in the park. First he has to ward-off the challenge from Nonofho Molefhi who is vying for the chairmanship and eventually the party presidency in 2019. Neither Festus Mogae nor Khama were challenged for the throne when they ascended, something which puts Masisi in a dark corner.

 

Secondly he will inherit a worn out BDP than the one which Ian Khama inherited from President Mogae.  If he wins the battle to lead BDP he will take it to face a strong and united opposition for the first time in history. Opposition enjoyed a combined 53 percent from the 2014 general elections.

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