Assuming the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) launched recently keeps intact and contests the 2019 general election as such, it stands a good chance of wrestling power from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). But this may after all be a hollow and short-lived victory as the coalition will collapse soon thereafter because parties will look more at themselves than the bigger picture of the UDC - that is, they will ask for their shares of the spoils from the election victory. This has been one of the reasons why coalition governments fail. In this conversation, I look at how the UDC is constrained as the ‘opposition headmaster’ from effectively managing coalition parties because these parties are powerful entities in their own right. If there is no effective management of the group at opposition level, there will surely be a bigger problem when in government where the stakes are so high. As it stands, there are two centres of power in the UDC structure – individual parties owing to their organisational structures and the UDC itself. This arrangement and for all intents and purposes breeds indiscipline, lawlessness and downright conflict as it is publicly demonstrated. To eliminate this undesirable scenario, all coalition parties will have to disband to form one UDC party with one manifesto and one Constitution. This has not been possible largely due to egocentrism from across the parties and this is why the UDC is at this point. Problems, more often than not, emerge after assuming power precisely because of the individualistic party identities and their preferred modus operandi in dealing with State machinery and other governance matters – appointments and appointees to strategic positions etcetera, etcetera. Every party would like its members appointed to such positions failure of which could bring instability and sometimes instant withdrawal from the coalition. Bear in mind that if the UDC wins, the BDP will for the first time in Botswana’s political history occupy opposition benches which it does not imagine sitting on. But the tables could turn if any coalition party holding a sizeable number of seats in Parliament becomes disgruntled from the share of the spoils and decides to cross the floor and form a coalition with the BDP. If this happens and depending on the number of seats the BDP will have won, UDC government will fall with the UDC reverting to the opposition benches. UDC leadership is fully aware of this eventuality, yet it is puzzling why it appears reluctant to form a single party to prevent in large measure the possible bloc floor crossing.
The answer is that coalition parties are more loyal to parties than to the UDC. It is more like saying even if the UDC collapses, our parties will remain. This could be explained by the failure of the coalition in the past; high levels of trust deficit between and amongst these parties; traditional, historical and sentimental attachments to these parties by their members and other such related issues. UDC as it stands today (and I stand corrected) does not have the power and authority to instil discipline, law and order within its coalition parties as these are the preserve of such parties. When Adv. Pilane for example applied for re-admission to the BMD, this caused a political storm which to this day has not been resolved. The UDC took a back stage on this matter on the ground that it is an internal BMD matter. This conduct, I will argue, renders UDC leadership a hostage of its own coalition parties. While Adv. Pilane’s matter is purely a party matter, it nevertheless has a strong and direct bearing on UDC stability. On the basis of the foregoing therefore, it is difficult if not almost impossible for these parties to disband to facilitate the formation of a single party. One of the key challenges the UDC is guaranteed to meet when in government under the current set up is as K J Singh, an MBA Graduate from a prestigious Business School in India described as ‘the absence of a single ideological compass so that it can navigate through the troubled economic and political waters’. As it stands, each party has its own ‘ideological compass’ accruing from their respective manifestos and Constitutions. Even if it could be argued that these parties have a common vision and mission to govern, a ruling party requires a single ideological compass. As long as these individual manifestos and Constitutions stand, they will in more ways than one be in conflict with the overall UDC, one hence the ideological compass challenge. Parties will conveniently at opportune times refer to their party manifestos and constitutions if they believe circumstances don’t favour them. This can only be overcome with parties disbanding.
UDC parties are heading to their respective elective congresses shortly where decisions with a significant bearing on its success or failure will be taken. Ideally, this should be a fully-fledged single UDC congress where preparations for 2019 will be made. It is common knowledge that despite the colourful launch of the UDC recently, emerging murmurs from within suggest that not all is well after all. Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) for example is aggrieved by the four constituencies where it is reported that it has lodged a complaint thereto. I am not aware if a response has been offered and what it entails. Over and above this constituency complaint, there is talk that other parties are also not happy with their allocations and other aspects of the UDC. One is tempted to argue that while other party matters will be on the agenda, the UDC project is bound to take centre stage because of its significance to the body politic. What will be of the greatest interest would be congress resolutions with particular emphasis on the UDC project going forward. Some parties may for example demand particular positions or a specified number of such positions in the future government. There is also the issue of UDC constitution which provides for two Vice Presidents as opposed to the country’s provision of only one. This issue may have been decided at the UDC leadership structure but because of murmurs alluded to above parties may look at it differently. Another issue that may spark a vicious debate at the congresses is the issue of internal democracy in so far as it relates to election to political offices like MPs and Councillors. The principle of incumbency in constituencies and while it is a starting point, should be reformed such that every UDC member at any constituency be allowed to stand for whatever political positions. I have posed a question before: if I am a UDC member in a constituency which is held by a party I am not a member of, I do not have an opportunity to stand unless I join that party or relocate to another constituency held by my party. This state of affairs is encouraged by party attachment. It will be interesting to see congress resolutions on this matter. I guess there will be a sharp departure from the incumbency principle because it is simply not sustainable let alone absolute discrimination.
From where I stand, the UDC leadership has scratched the surface more than the fundamental and toxic underlying issues which have disabled its formation earlier. These toxic underlying issues between and amongst cooperating parties are still there for even the blind to see and the deaf to hear. This leadership, I am afraid but with a great deal of respect, has portrayed a care-free, lacklustre attitude in convincingly and comprehensively addressing underlying issues which in their main, have consistently rendered the UDC an unsustainable project beyond attaining power. The analogy that the cooperating parties are already fighting over carcass portions even before the beast is slaughtered is confirmed by foul language and disdain towards cooperating parties’ comrades let alone those who criticise and point out the inherent flaws which could derail the project. But the message is simple – disband individual parties to form one solid UDC party with a single ‘ideological compass to navigate through troubled economic and political waters’ or perish. It is accepted, grudgingly or otherwise, that the UDC is a government in waiting but if it carries the ‘existing excess baggage’ compounded by its own ‘factory faults’, the future looks somewhat doom and gloom. Goodwill and sympathetic vote which you desperately need may be deserting you. History has already judged the UDC harshly for past serious errors of judgement. It cannot afford any more. Judge for yourself!