It is an open secret that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is highly divided right down the middle between the two candidates vying for its presidential seat in the persons of the current position holder His Excellency the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi who is the frontrunner and his challenger the Hon Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the underdog. President Masisi derives the frontrunner status from his incumbency position and the fact that he has received whitewash endorsements from all BDP regional congresses while Hon Venson-Moitoi is the underdog by virtue of being the challenger with no endorsement from any regional congress. In this conversation, I look at the highly divided BDP aspect and how it will potentially influence the outcome; whether the endorsements conclusively settle the contest; the candidates themselves and whether the contest will be fair and credible.
BDP highly divided right down the middle
While factions have remained entrenched in the BDP internal politics as do in other political parties generally speaking, they have somewhat reached fever pitch in recent times. These have been occasioned inter alia by the unprecedented challenge to the BDP President in an election year; disgruntlement from bulela ditswe (primary elections) losers who feel their appeals have not been fairly resolved by an impartial Election Board; the former President Ian Khama’s endorsement of Hon Venson-Moitoi not sitting well with the President’s faction. As if this is not enough, the current stand-off between President Masisi and his predecessor has heightened the fever pitch to another level.
I have observed with keen interest how the BDP side that supports the President has continually and consistently made it difficult for Hon Venson-Moitoi to freely campaign to the extent that she made demands to the BDP in a letter dated 8 March 2019 titled ‘In Response to the Statement by the Secretary General of the BDP, Mr Mpho Balopi delivered via a third party as published by Sunday Standard on 3rd March and followed by the Mmegi Monitor on the 4th March 2019’. Amongst others, she demands that ‘The Electoral Board be reactivated provided its Chairman Peter Siele recuses himself…For purposes of these elections, we would like the depository of all documents to be the Electoral Board….As espoused by yourself, we embrace the Code of Conduct for Candidates as a guiding tool…All party structures shall be impartial and not support one candidate to the detriment of others…’ These are reasonable demands. At the time of writing, nothing suggested the BDP had responded and if so, how it had done so. But given the no love lost attitude between the two camps, nothing reasonably suggests such response is feasible. Because the frontrunner would predictably use incumbency and other BDP tools to his advantage over the underdog, it is expected that he should have an edge. But again these divisions could very well work in favour of the underdog.
These endorsements are extremely important because they can make or break any candidate’s aspirations to the position of BDP President. Consequently, it would be heart breaking for the President to lose this contest given the overwhelming endorsements he has received. While endorsements in their nature do not necessarily and obviously translate into votes which ultimately deliver the winner, they are an indication of where delegates may finally cast their votes with respect to deciding the winner. But one is duty bound to interrogate how these endorsements were conducted as a point of departure. Like I have said above, the underdog appears not to have been provided with a fair platform to freely campaign including processes of endorsements. Consequent to not campaigning freely, her supporters have reasonable grounds to argue that the contemplated disciplinary proceedings against them is one such form of intimidation which would result in skewed endorsements in favour of the frontrunner because such endorsements would not be conducted in a free and conducive atmosphere. I have posed a question before as to why regional congresses which I presume have been held in the past before other BDP elective congresses have not caused so much discomfort as do the recent ones leading to the upcoming presidential elections. And the answer could be that this time around, it’s somewhat a matter of ‘life and death’ for the sitting party President to be ousted because there is lot for him to lose than his challenger.
Word doing the rounds in the public discourse is that because the supporters of the underdog would not stand a chance of going to the elective congress because they support her, such supporters have pretended to support the frontrunner such that they are able to proceed to the congress venue where they will in turn vote for the underdog. If this proposition is anything to go by, the question of overwhelming endorsements for the frontrunner becomes somewhat inconsequential because they (endorsements) wouldn’t translate into votes commensurate with such overwhelming endorsements. This proposition could explain why the underdog hasn’t conceded defeat emanating from her non-endorsement by any region. It would of course depend on how well or not these delegates are swayed by either side on the eve of and including the voting day. I am saying therefore that we may very well see an unexpected congress outcome notwithstanding the overwhelming endorsement of the frontrunner by the regions against zero for the underdog. It is my considered view that these endorsements cannot conclusively render the contested position of BDP President a done deal.
In my view, both candidates are worthy ‘pretenders to the throne’. They all have their individual strengths and weaknesses as do other human beings. Because they belong to the same political party, they will promote its developmental agenda as articulated in its manifesto and other policy documents. It is the manner and style of achieving the party’s objectives that separate them. What is at stake at this elective congress is primarily for them to win the hearts and minds of the delegates.
Will the contest be fair and credible?
The BDP has already shown that it is unable to impartially run its Bulela ditswe (primary elections) processes as demonstrated by the recent past protests. The number of independent candidates who originated from the BDP as a result of Bulela ditswe disgruntlement in the 2014 General Election is more likely to replicate this time around given the many complaints from the recent past Bulela ditswe. It is accepted that no electoral process is perfect and so will the upcoming presidential contest. That said, and given the history of Bulela ditswe past failures, one would have thought that the BDP could outsource the upcoming contest to an independent body given the complaints and demands from Hon Venson-Moitoi’s camp. The Secretary General of the BDP Rre Mpho Balopi has already declared that he will be running the presidential elections by virtue of his position in the party. Fair enough. But given the enormity of the contest and his conflicted position owing to his support for one of the contestants, how impartial can he be? There is a perception out there from some of the BDP members that he is blamed for the mismanagement of the past and controversial Bulela ditswe processes alluded to above. It is a given that all documentary material with a direct bearing on the outcome of the presidential election like the voters’ roll will be under his exclusive and strict custody. It goes without saying that such documents could be susceptible to manipulation and circumvention of some sort given his perceived or real conflicted and vested interest in the outcome of the process. There is a high chance that the contest may be challenged by the underdog given the foregoing demands and complaints.