News has emerged that Hon Eric Molale, a Specially Elected Member of Parliament (MP) and probably the first and the last to be elected twice in the 11th Parliament or any other for that matter, has been selected by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) through a compromise dispensation to be its candidate in the 2019 general election in the Goodhope/Mabule constituency. It has also emerged that Mr Fankie Motsaathebe, who was expected to compete with Hon Molale for the constituency, has been appointed the campaign manager. On the surface and given the compromise dispensation in this instance, the BDP appears to have taken a step further to prevent a protest vote which it may be argued, severely cost it in the 2014 general election and the subsequent by-election in 2015. In the 2014 general election, the BDP was represented by Hon Kitso Mokaila who garnered 6101 votes while the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) got 6712. The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) was a distant third with a paltry 717. The vote difference between the BDP and the UDC was 611. In the subsequent by-election in 2015, Hon Molale resigned from both his ministerial and parliamentary positions to contest the by-election. He garnered 4372 votes with the UDC’s 6152 – a difference of 1780. The BCP was again a distant third with again a paltry 385. In 2014, 13,530 valid votes were cast whereupon this number would have been lower in the by-election given the general historical low levels of participation by voters in by-elections. But still, for Hon Molale to have lost by such a huge margin tells an uncomfortable story to the BDP’s chance of success in 2019 and whether given these figures, he is an appealing and sellable candidate to realistically win. This is the argument I am raising. Why then did Hon Molale perform so poorly and badly given the resources at his disposal as a Minister, one may ask? Why did he fail to improve on the numbers of Hon Mokaila? To be fair to Hon Molale, a point must be made that in the by-election, he was competing against none other than the Paramount Chief of Barolong. History has shown that it is difficult for subjects to beat their masters. Kgosi Moremi and Kgosi Gaseitsiwe come to mind. It doesn’t mean however that Chiefs cannot be beaten. When there was talk that Phenyo Segokgo could stand against Kgosi Gaborone in Tlokweng after the death of former MP Bathobakae, I suggested that the former stood a good chance given the prevailing political circumstances then. But even if the Chief was not a candidate in this instance (Hon Molale’s), he would have still found it difficult to triumph given negative issues around him. Events leading to the endorsement of Hon Molale as the BDP’s preferred candidate it was suggested then, did not go down well with the supporters of Motsaathebe who were also reported to have withheld their vote in protest against Hon Molale. The BDP has admitted that some of their members did not vote for it elsewhere in protest in 2014, hence its 47% popular vote. It is difficult to know if this fall-out has been cleared. Hon Molale has a well-documented and chequered history with the civil servants emanating from his ministerial portfolio. The trade union federation representing civil servants, BOFEPUSU, has labelled him one of their enemies who should not be elected to any political position. It appears so far, that this call has been successful and nothing suggests it will change anytime soon. Hon Molale has issued a directive in which civil servants who are members of political parties are barred from participating in bulela ditswe (internal party primary election process). The High Court has quashed the directive with Hon Molale elevating the matter to the Court of Appeal which is still seized with it. Hon Molale is also blamed to some degree, for the dysfunctional and the ultimate spectacular collapse of the Bargaining Council by his alleged overreaching conduct in its operations as a representative of government. The Public Service Act (PSA), which is reportedly being amended, is said to be intended to give more powers to the political leadership on the running of the Bargaining Council. This amendment, one is tempted to conclude, is to firmly locate the Bargaining Council under the direct grip and control of the political leadership. These circumstances, one is tempted to conclude therefore, are the reasons why Hon Molale is one of the enemies of civil servants and why he lost the by-election in 2015. Has anything substantially changed to put Hon Molale in pole position to win in 2019?
Nothing and realistically speaking so far, has changed. If anything, things could arguably be said to have worsened considering events which unfolded subsequent to the by-election – Bargaining Council dysfunctionality due to real or perceived political interference, amendment to the PSA and others. The long and short of it is that the excessive political baggage that Hon Molale carried before, during and after the by-election is still on his back and it will be difficult if not totally impossible, to shed it to stand any realistic chance of success. Government could increase salaries of civil servants to entice them. Remember that in 2011 they demanded a 16% salary increase which was rejected to this day. But in a country where billions of Pula is wasted in failed mega projects, perennial wasteful and fruitless expenditure across ministries, it is not certain that any single or even double digit increase could make any desired political breakthrough. Even if some could be swayed by the increase, would it result in him doing well? I don’t think so given the severity of the excess baggage. Why would the BDP take a gamble on Hon Molale given his poor performance in 2015 and the strained relations with civil servants who are voters? The BDP, I would expect, would have made a SWOT analysis on the candidature of Hon Molale to determine whether he is the most suitable candidate given his adversarial relations with civil servants, whether real or perceived. Somebody in the party should have, with some degree of honesty and objectivity, raised the red flag that circumstances which existed in 2015 still do so hence the likelihood of diminished chances of Hon Molale winning. It has been argued that the 2014 UDC moono slogan and other accompanying issues may not be present in 2019, hence playing no significant role in the election outcome in 2019 or beyond. While this may be true, the political baggage referred to above nevertheless remains with the possibility of undoing it as remote as Hon Molale winning. It has also been suggested that the current political upheaval consuming the UDC may work in favour of the BDP in 2019. In this particular constituency though, vote splitting could not help the BDP in 2014 and the subsequent by-election in 2015 as above figures show. In any case, the UDC can still put its house in order because this is firmly within its competence and ability provided cool heads and sober minds are applied.