You will least expect a political party which has been in government for 50 years not to be aware of what its government is doing in Parliament particularly when it relates to the amendment of an electoral law, the very instrument through whose processes political parties assume political power to govern. If, and yes if newspaper reports are anything to go by, then the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and its government are indeed ‘not singing from the same hymn sheets’ and unavoidably much to the chagrin of its members in particular and the general public in general. Or are mind games at play to deflect attention from electronic voting machines and associated issues?
In mid-2015, a prominent BDP member, Bugalo Chilume, authored a two-part article in the Botswana Guardian titled “BDP: reforms or demise”.
In this article, Chilume raised a wide range of issues which may have contributed to the BDP’s decline in popular vote in the 2014 elections from which the opposition seized the opportunity to better its performance. He writes that “the odds will certainly be heavily stacked against the ruling party and chances of it retaining power at the next general elections appear extremely slim”. He continues to discuss the BDP’s “…shortcomings, many of which have been in existence for decades but became glaringly evident under President Khama’s administration”. One of his critical shortcomings which is relevant to my article is his observation on the “party’s lack of control over the BDP’s government, hence the party’s dismal failure to reign in government over its excesses”. I think he was being honest and alerting his party to avoid similar pitfalls en route to the next elections but it appears the party is following the same destructive route given recent political and other developments.
Around the same time that Chilume wrote his article, Botsalo Ntuane, was launching his draft campaign document, ‘BDP Reform Agenda Conversation: 22 Discussion Points’ for the Mmadinare Congress where he contested and easily won the position of Secretary General. In this document, Ntuane talks about four distinct areas namely the Party, Government/Economic Development, Electoral Reforms and others. For purposes of this article, I will focus on the party aspect where he says that the “… party must reclaim its authority over government. The party must lead government and not be subordinate as is the case presently. The voice of the party must be heard loud and clear on every single issue”. But completely against expectations from those following politics in this country, The Telegraph newspaper dated August 31, 2016, reported that “in an interesting turn of events, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is still to engage with government to look into the Electoral Amendment Bill which was passed recently paving way for electronic voting machines.
BDP Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane told The Telegraph in an interview that the Electoral Amendment Bill is at government level and as the party they never got a chance to scrutinise the Bill at party level” Really? If so then there is something seriously wrong somewhere. Chilume talks in the preceding paragraph about the “Party’s lack of control over the BDP government” and for the party to turn against its government to suggest that “It is still to engage government to look into the Electoral Amendment Bill” when the same was propelled through Parliament on urgency in the wee hours of that fateful morning is, mildly put, jaw dropping. This Bill is as good as assented to given the speed with which it was brought to Parliament. If this Bill is going to be referred back to Parliament, it will be music to the ears of its opponents but an egg on the faces on both government and the party. Chilume and Ntuane feel that their government should get instructions from the party – in fact one believes that this should be the case because the executive team got its positions via the party. How then does the party claim that it “never got a chance to scrutinise the Bill at the party level”? I wish the newspaper had asked!
The Electoral Amendment Bill, just like other recent bills which were frantically shoved through Parliament, were widely debated in the public space – there was so much noise about them such that no party activist or member, ruling or opposition, would have missed the brouhaha. Where was the BDP when their own MPs passed the bill with twenty-one of them agreeing while the opposition were twelve against, and where was it when the IEC held a workshop on electronic voting machines? The American R&B musical group One Way released an album around 1982 called ‘Who’s Fooling Who’. If indeed The Telegraph correctly quoted Ntuane, it means therefore that there is a serious gap between the party and its government in that one distinctly operates from the other wherein two centres of power would exist which is a sign of a highly divided party. The recent revelations of audio recordings of party internal meetings which were leaked to the media could be interpreted to confirm the division.
Given that the BDP is still to “engage with the government to look into the Electoral Amendment Bill”, it may very well join the BCP in asking its President not to sign this Bill – a position which will politically speaking, be suicidal to the BDP as it will suggest that it is at odds with its government and President. This will also give the BCP and other opposition parties which objected to this Bill from the word go, such a huge political mileage which Chilume’s “BDP: reforms or demise” and Ntuane’s “BDP Reform Agenda Conversation” sought to curtail. Because reforms as suggested by the two seem to be hitting a brick wall, is demise a logical consequence?