The battle for the presidency of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) elective congress in Kang on the 5th April 2019 between the incumbent His Excellency the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and the challenger to the throne Hon Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi is bound to create two centres of power; albeit temporarily should the latter win. If the former wins, no two centres of power will be created because nothing that creates it would have occurred. Temporarily in the sense that such centre of power would have been created immediately after Hon Venson-Moitoi’s win and after other legal and constitutional processes would have inevitably kicked in. I will discuss this view later in the conversation based principally on what the Secretary General of the BDP told the media late last year. Interestingly, the President has made pronouncements on numerous occasions to the effect that should he lose to Hon Venson-Moitoi, he will continue to be the President of the BDP and the country respectively until the October 2019 general election. I am seriously constrained to agree with him. If he loses I remain convinced, he should lose both positions. This view will be discussed later in the conversation as well.
The Telegraph newspaper dated March 6, 2019 carried a story under the heading “Masisi warns ‘Domkrag’ about implications of voting for Venson-Moitoi” in paragraphs 6 and 7 by stating: “Imagine the enormity of the instability that will rock us if by sheer accident I lose in Kang. I will not be presidential candidate for the BDP in the General Elections but will continue as Head of State of Botswana until then. I will also continue as per our Constitution to be President of the party unless you amend the party constitution. He reminded BDP members that as President of the party he is also head of the decision making Central Committee. This is what you call two centres of power.” My little knowledge tells me that two centres of power is a situation that emerges when the President of a political party and in this instance the BDP is not the President of this beautiful Republic.
A similar situation emerged in South Africa in 2007 when President Thabo Mbeki lost the African National Congress (ANC) presidential position to former President Jacob Zuma. It repeated itself in 2017 when Zuma, though he didn’t contest, remained the President of South Africa while President Cyril Ramaphosa became the President of the ANC. Two centres of power existed with Zuma heading the government while Ramaphosa headed the ANC. That is why Zuma was prevailed upon, albeit grudgingly, to leave office before his term as President of South Africa expired. Keep this in mind and zoom it into our situation should the President lose to Hon Venson-Moitoi.
As soon as the President “by sheer accident” loses to Hon Venson-Moitoi, the latter will immediately become the President of the BDP. The President will immediately cease to be the “head of a decision making Central Committee” and other functions and responsibilities accorded to the position of the President of the BDP. Consequent to this “sheer accident” and correctly as the President puts it the onerous task of being the face of the BDP with respect to the general election shall be vested in Hon Venson-Moitoi and no other. I am therefore constrained to understand and appreciate how the President will “continue to as per our Constitution to be the President of the party unless you amend the party Constitution ‘narrative’. The following explains why he wouldn’t:
Article 29.3.4 of the BDP Constitution, according to the party Secretary General of the party Rre Mpho Balopi as captured by The Patriot on Sunday dated 9 November 2018 under the headline “Plot to oust Masisi” stated that “….the BDP Constitution does not envisage a situation where the offices of the State President and Party President can be held by two different individuals when the party is in power….He said that the BDP Constitution is very clear that when the party is power, the President of the country shall also be the Party President.” Now that the President would have lost the party presidential position to Hon Venson-Moitoi, no two centres of power as suggested by the President would have been created as a consequence. Put differently, it suffices from the position as articulated by the BDP Secretary General above that Hon Venson-Moitoi shall be entitled to occupy the position of the President of this Republic by virtue of being the President of the BDP. How then does Hon Venson-Moitoi occupy the office of the President of the Republic?
Two points should be made with regard to the view that “BDP Constitution does not envisage a situation where the offices of the State President and Party President can be held by two different individuals when the party is in power” and the suggestion by the President that he will continue to be the party President as per the party Constitution unless it is amended. The two points suggest in my view that because there is perceived lacuna in the BDP Constitution (which I don’t think there is) that because such Constitution does not envisage a situation that at some point, someone who is not the President of the party could still be the President of the country, therefore with respect to the subject matter, the President should continue to act as the President of the BDP even if he would have lost through an election the position to another person in this case Hon Venson-Moitoi. While it is accepted that the challenge to the BDP presidential position is unprecedented, the question of perceived lacuna is answered by the statement of the Secretary General that “the BDP Constitution is clear that when the party is in power, the President of the country shall also be the party President”. The President of the country firstly has to be that of a political party in power and in this instance the BDP. It follows therefore that the country’s President with respect to this statement must be the party President and therefore and in my view, the question of amending the party Constitution to deal with two centres of power doesn’t arise. How will Hon Venson-Moitoi deal with this unprecedented two centres of power?
It will depend on how she handles the unprecedented political situation given the atmosphere preceding her election to the President of the BDP; the toxic and hardened attitudes from both camps; that the general election would be six months away; not to alienate those who supported the President. It would also depend how the President himself reacts to the turn of events. To his credit, he concedes by saying that “….I promise I will gladly accept my defeat and consequently move on.” This is a loaded statement with possibly many interpretations. One of those could be that he may resign from being the President of the country. Food for thought! A political solution rather than a legal one may be desirable to deal with the question of the presidency in government. Hon Venson-Moitoi could engage the President where they could find common ground whether he should voluntarily resign or carry on as President until elections time. The latter wouldn’t be a better option because two centres of power (which is not desirable) would exist with Hon Venson-Moitoi taking charge of the party with the President at the helm of government. There will obviously be tensions and collisions at Tsholetsa House and the Government Enclave respectively on who is really in charge of the party and government. The party will also experience those tensions and collisions in its campaigns for the general election.
If the President refuses to voluntarily resign for whatever reason, it could become ugly and humiliating where he could be removed by a vote of no confidence in parliament that could further exacerbate the tension and hard attitudes. Whichever way Hon Venson-Moitoi chooses not to be seen to be adversarial or triumphalist, the President will in any event have to vacate his position.