Realising that it had missed to win the 2014 general election, one would have thought the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) would by now be way ahead in preparations for this year’s general election. By now, the UDC should have finalised the list of its candidates in the form of Councillors and Members of Parliament amongst others where these candidates would be in full swing campaigning. It is accepted that the UDC faced challenges with respect to the instability of one its former partners, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the subsequent founding of the Alliance for Progressives (AP). That said, the lethargic and lacklustre manner of getting the UDC in cruise control immediately after the BMD debacle, doesn’t exhibit a political formation fully prepared and hungry enough to assume political power beyond the usual rhetoric consistent with an election year. My argument is purely premised firstly from the undecided and the unaligned voter given that very few religious UDC members would argue that their political formation is not exhibiting any signs of a government-in-waiting. Secondly, the undecided voter in any election is what political parties require over and above their traditional voters for maximum election outcomes.
It is an undisputable fact that post the 2014 general election; the UDC did very well probably beyond its own expectations in council and parliamentary by-elections. These by-elections are by any account, a loud and clear warning sign to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that it has overstayed its welcome. The by-election successes should have on their own greatly motivated the UDC to double prepare itself by keeping the momentum in full swing and uninterrupted. Added to this advantage was the ‘controversial’ admission of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) from the BMD perspective. But lo and behold! The momentum somewhat dissipated into the horizon.
Like I have stated in the opening paragraph, the UDC has not as of now completed its lists of candidates to represent it in different constituencies. Barring a few hiccups brought by the expulsion of the BMD and the founding of the AP who both migrated with some Councillors and MPs who were voted in under the UDC ticket in 2014, the UDC should have moved quickly to replace those who left with the BMD and AP. For the voter and particularly those who are the undecided, it is important that the candidate list is dealt with soonest to assess its calibre and suitability. The Botswana Gazette dated 15-21 May 2019 runs with a story titled ‘BPP struggles to field candidates’ in which one of the UDC partners, Botswana Peoples Party, is reported to be struggling at this late hour to find candidates for its allocated constituencies. There is a story in The Voice newspaper dated May 17, 2019 that there is a query in the Lerala/Maunatlala constituency with respect to the endorsement of a BMD Councillor by UDC President allegedly against the wishes of the local community. The UDC is in my view, overly under the dangerous belief of rhetoric that because it has done very well in by-elections, the rest of its political machinery will obviously fall in place to ensure success in the October general election. It better be warned, though, that it may be too late to do so; that it may still be the cruel case of the so near yet so far which has become synonymous with it over the years. For the undecided voter, it may not be an excuse that some constituencies at this late hour are yet to find candidates.
The UDC has lost one of the most important and critical constituencies necessary in elections, trade union federation BOFEPUSU which arguably, helped it perform beyond its expectations in 2014. BOFEPUSU had explicitly stated that it would support any party the UDC included provided it demonstrated serious articulation of worker’s issues in parliament. Save for the far-in-between and half-hearted mentioning of workers’ issues, the UDC and according to BOFEPUSU, failed to meaningfully consult it after 2014 on a number of issues. Ever since, relationship between these entities took a dramatic, yet harmful nosedive. It is not enough for a political party aspiring to take power to come into contact with trade unions only at official functions like May Day commemorations and manifesto launches. The UDC should have taken advantage of the many public sector trade union members who are denied participatory democracy in actively participating in primary election activities by the BDP. With the UDC far-detached from trade unions after 2014, maximum spin offs from aggrieved public sector trade union members cannot be said to be achieved. This is not a sign of a government in waiting.
The manner in which the UDC handled or should I say mishandled the BMD matter leading up to and immediately after the ill-fated Bobonong ‘congresses’ by the two factions at the time, may come to severely haunt it. Votes that will go to the BMD and AP, insignificant as some may argue, may be the votes desperately required by the UDC to reach the Promised Land. If the UDC had smartly handled the BMD instability issue immediately it emerged after the Gantsi congress, the levels of upcoming split votes by the BMD and AP would not be there. I accept that the relationship between BMD and UDC before it split was more manageable if cool heads prevailed than it was after Bobonong. But based on proven past experience that opposition parties can take power when all united, all humanely possible to keep BMD should have been done.
While the UDC has continually and consistently criticised Khama for his questionable decisions during his administration, it requires a smart leadership to communicate Khama’s involvement if any, such that the electorate is brought on board to fully appreciate the recent turn of events. It is a given that the UDC could be looking to cash in on Khama’s popularity and influence for political expediency with respect to the upcoming elections. If one follows the debate on whether Khama is good for the UDC’s course or not, it becomes obvious that people are not well informed about this issue such that UDC and other members of society appreciate it. There are murmurs that the BCP may not be receptive to Khama flirting with the UDC which would suggest, if true, that this issue has not been properly discussed and agreed upon in a proper structure. Consequently, this could work against the UDC if the electorate become confused. The issue of the UDC President ‘privatising’ the UDC brand as reported by the Sunday Standard (May 12-18, 2019) could bring more confusion.
One has accepted that rhetoric and populism are part of the political game particularly in an election year across the political divide. That said, today’s undecided voter has become smart and sophisticated. The UDC is trending with #living wage of P3000 and #Old Age Pension of P1500. Whereas these are attractive figures given the difficult socio-economic realities facing Batswana, the raw message accompanying these promises is that as soon as the UDC attains power, these amounts will immediately be dispensed to the targeted groups. While I may have jumped the gun before reading the UDC manifesto on these hashtags, it will be fair to suggest that the message to the hard core members of the UDC is that these figures are loading and almost a done deal. To the undecided voter, a question emerges: with the economy chart close to zero and therefore struggling to move to about 6% of economic growth to generate economic development, are these figures therefore realistic and sustainable under the prevailing economic circumstances? Wouldn’t it be better for the UDC to say: accepting that the BDP has run down the economy to the point where Botswana is almost on auto pilot, we will first fix it (the economy) for it to sustain the hashtag figures? Is the UDC not attracting a backlash by making unrealistic and unsustainable election promises? Is it not dangerous to say there is a lot of money in Botswana when it is reported that such money has disappeared under unexplained circumstances where it will require some effort and time to recover it if at all? To the undecided voter, it may be hard to be persuaded by these hashtag figures.