2019: The fear of losing political power

SHARE   |   Monday, 24 October 2016   |   By Adam Phetlhe
2019: The fear of losing political power

Fear is in most, if not all cases, preceded by threat in our everyday life situations where some even lose their lives as a result. Imagine the amount of fear generated by a robber who threatens to kill you should you refuse them access to your house or refuse to give up your car during hijacking. Some are lucky not to have experienced these unpleasant situations while some have unfortunately done so with devastating consequences. But for political parties, their fears for the 2019 election may not be life-threatening but are alive all the same. In the context of this article therefore, I discuss the fear of losing political power for these parties. It must be mentioned though that for these parties, their fears in the present circumstances are self-inflicted in that the opposition is fragmented and self-centred factors which prevent success while the ruling party is failing on good governance, accountability and the rule of law - imperatives mandatory to success.  What are these fears?

Let us start with “pretenders to the throne”, opposition parties. The greatest fear for opposition parties will be their failure to win and form government post 2019 general election. These parties have tried and failed to beat the ruling party in the past elections where the prospect of doing so in the next election poses so much fear that failure this time around is not an option. Firstly, these parties are buoyed by their performances in the 2014 general election where they garnered a combined 53% popular vote which exceeded the ruling party. Cognisant of this performance, some belief is created, justifiably or not, that the Promised Land is within reach. Secondly, should this belief disappear into thin air as it has in the past, the credibility and relevance of these parties in the political landscape could result in the patience of their members and sympathisers dwindling to dangerously low levels where some could join the ruling party en masse as a result of a trust deficit. The combined 53% popular vote will therefore become inconsequential to deliver political power to form government which in turn could cause these parties to assume a stand-alone position; the result of which could signal the beginning of the end.

Thirdly, failure to beat the ruling party has essentially been self-inflicted by opposition parties through vote-splitting. These parties have allowed ego and personality issues amongst others to derail the cooperation project. For example, one wouldn’t expect constituency allocation to be such a contested issue which ultimately leads to the failure of cooperation talks. So pretenders to the throne cannot genuinely blame anybody for their failures to beat the ruling party to the game. This failure, however, remains the greatest fear towards 2019 general election. As for the ruling party, everything almost fits the phrase “life and death” because its fears by far outweigh those of opposition parties largely due to incumbency. The fact that this party has dominated governing Botswana for so long in itself somewhat evokes fear of the unknown – will the party follow the line of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s KANU in Kenya and Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP in Zambia?  A difficult and painful question to ponder!

The levels of animosity between the ruling and opposition parties fit into those of the ANC and the EFF in which there is evidently no love lost between them. This tells you that should the opposition parties win in 2019, there will be consequences for the outgoing party in so far as to accounting for major decisions which could border on corruption, abuse of office, maladministration and so forth. In any event, the opposition has made such pronouncements. It goes without saying that some individuals from the ruling party and their associates potentially face jail time should the above offences be preferred and proven beyond reasonable doubt against them. Fear of the unknown becomes painfully inevitable. If again these offences are proved, any material benefit accruing thereof could be seized by the state resulting in double loss to those implicated.

Events unfolding of late on the national and political discourse in terms of the pending bill in Parliament to accord the President both gratuity and pension upon retirement; reforms to the Electoral Act in terms of introducing electronic voting machines, discontinuation of supplementary registration etcetera; the recent increase in full Ministerial and Deputy Ministerial positions amid the call that government is financially poor; the pending increase in the number of Specially Elected MPs from four to six; the ‘controversial’ manner in liquidating both BCL and its subsidiary Tati Nickel Mine, could potentially work against the ruling party in 2019 if the campaign over these issues by the opposition is anything to go by.

Fears in relation to the ruling party are captured in The Telegraph dated October 19, 2016 headlined ‘Election uncertainty takes toll on BDP activists’ in which “Some concerned BDP activists are wary that the numerous blunders being committed by the current political lords might cost the party victory in the 2019 general election….they say the straw that broke the camel’s back was the failure to save thousands of jobs at the BCL mine in Selibe-Phikwe in its hour of need”. While these are views from a few BDP activists, they may very well be views from many others within the party. Faced with fears expressed from within, desperate situations requiring desperate measures may not only be optional but imperative for the ruling party. Aung San Suu Kyis, a Burmese politician and author observes in her book ‘Freedom from Fear’ that “Fear of dispossessing authority, immunity and status in a society naturally ushers one to protect it”.

But is protection not too little too late? Difficult to say but theories bandied around the hurried introduction of the voting machines through the amended electoral act could be “just what the doctor ordered”. Proponents of this theory suggest that because these machines lack paper trail and are susceptible to some form of manipulation (a highly contested theory and depending on where one stands), is reason good enough for the ruling party to rig elections to stay in power. The other desperate measure could be for the ruling party to do all in its power to ensure that the BCP doesn’t join the umbrella shade for if this goes through and based on vote-splitting in 2014, it could be curtains for the ruling party. When all is said and done, the greatest fear between the parties remains firmly entrenched in the ruling party for any change in political leadership after 2019 could be catastrophic as alluded to above. Psychologist Professor Dr Philip Holder said “Fear causes errors in judgement and prevents one from taking the most reasonable action”. This may be true to the ruling and opposition parties but their worst fears will be confirmed or not via the electronic voting machines. Judge for yourself!

Adam Phetlhe        
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