On Monday the 17th of this month, I was invited to the answer this question. Further to this question, two others were on the menu: Is their presence going to change the political landscape and, can a former President return to parliament, even as President if he joins the BPF. I did provide the answers. It is in this respect that I further wish to answer these questions on this platform given the latest political developments at the Central District Council meeting which undoubtedly are occasioned by the founding and registration of Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). These answers and perspectives are not necessarily the gospel truth, that I accept.
The BPF is founded in the main by the disgruntled members of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). And these members are disgruntled by a variety of reasons including but not limited to allegations they regard as fact concerning the management or mismanagement of BDP bulela ditswe (primary elections); failure by the party to fairly resolve disputes emanating from the bulela ditswe contest. There is also the feeling amongst the disgruntled that the party is discriminatory in dealing with those who may be differing with the party on certain issues or all of them. In short, they allege there are double standards in dealing with internal party members affecting party members. May be the last straw that broke the camel’s back were issues leading to the Kang congress where some members were picked up for disciplinary proceedings where two MPs were suspended and the other expelled. The suspended have since quit the party. Consequent to these reasons, the main reason for the late entry of BPF is to remove the BDP President Dr M.E.K. Masisi from his other position of the President of the Republic of Botswana having failed to remove him from the party presidency at the special national congress about two months ago in Kang.
The late entry of the BPF means therefore that the departure of these disgruntled BDP members would take their votes from their erstwhile party somewhere else. This without any shred of doubt would weaken the BDP voting strength in the coming election. Recent reports indicate that a sizeable number of BDP Councillors in the Central District have resigned from the party. It is suggested in harsh tones that some BDP MPs may be waiting in the wings to jump ship as well. These mass resignations if you allow me to describe them that way, would certainly disrupt at this hour the line-up of parliamentary and council candidates for the coming election in cases where these Councillors had won bulela ditswe. A tedious process of finding alternative candidates would ensue but given the heavily contested process for political office, some battles are sure to emerge. While the argument is that most of the disgruntled parliamentary and council individuals had lost bulela ditswe contests and are therefore of no significance, they will have an impact on the BDP because they are more likely to move with other people. Even if they have lost in bulela ditswe, they still have followers.
Because the BPF has stated openly that it will cooperate with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to unseat the BDP, this in itself is a major boost for the UDC depending on how the two parties manage this cooperation by way of explaining it to their membership and how well or not the message is received. The message from the UDC on BPF cooperation is very key as it could make or break it (UDC). Also, the BPF will certainly add numbers to the opposition. It is recognised that in some constituencies these numbers may not necessarily boost the UDC if measures are not put in place to minimise vote splitting. A UDC and BPF candidate in the same constituency wouldn’t work in favour of the two. It is an open secret that some in the UDC conglomerate do not take kindly to any cooperation with Lt Gen Khama who is suspected to be the very building block around whom the BPF is founded presumably on the ground that he is accused of so many infractions during his tenure.
Can former President return to the country’s presidency?
The Constitution of Botswana provides for a two five year term for individuals who occupy the position of President. It is however silent as far as I can gather as to whether a former President can return to the position after serving the mandatory two five year terms. I stand corrected as always. In other countries, their Constitutions provide that after serving the two term periods, such former Presidents are eligible to return after serving a ‘cooling off period’ of five years after concluding the initial two term periods. The Mozambique Constitution under Head of State explains that... ‘The President is restricted to two five year terms, but is eligible for re-election five years after previous terms.’ The Cape Verde Constitution Article 146(1) on Re-eligibility provides that ‘The President of the Republic may not be a candidate for a third term within five years immediately following the end of his second consecutive term.’
When the National Assembly amended the Constitution to allow for the current and mandatory two five year terms for the President, it was probably assumed that the outgoing President would not have the desire to return to active politics after completing the mandatory period which presumably again, would have taxed him/her not to return. Former President Rre F.G. Mogae quietly retired and never showed any signs of returning to active politics let alone showing signs of returning to the Office of the President. Lt Gen Khama has caught some of us off guard because it may have been assumed that given that he has publicly stated that he was not cut for politics and also that he never exhibited any sign of not leaving office when his time arrived, he would not have any desire to return. But given his fall out with President Masisi, he has gone full throttle in active politics principally to oust him. I don’t think Khama is intending to be the President once more. His main project in politics is to remove President Masisi. If he succeeds, we may not see him in active politics. It has since emerged that to render him (Khama) politically dysfunctional, the BDP is mulling over amending the law to strip him of some of his benefits because he is active in politics post his retirement. The immediate past Speaker of the National Assembly Mme Margaret Nasha has authoritatively cautioned the BDP that even if it were to amend the President Retirement and Benefits law to fix Khama, it wouldn’t be applied retroactively.
In conclusion, the BPF is set to cost the BDP in terms of voting numbers. The argument that only individuals who lost bulela ditswe are leaving and cannot hurt it in any way is flawed because the BDP needs votes from all its members-whether they have won bulela ditswe or not. One is watching with keen interest whether the winners of bulela ditswe are also in the Great Trek and whether there are some from the southern part of the country. Even if the BDP can mount a massive recruitment drive in the remaining period towards elections as President Masisi has suggested, the numbers it can acquire are likely to be far less than those departing. The influence of BPF in the political landscape is not yet clear in terms of its policies, manifesto and the model of collaboration with the UDC. But such influence is already visible given the unfolding political events. Time will tell whether it will hold as a political going forward. Lt Gen Khama is not precluded by the Constitution as it stands from running for political office whatever that position could be and can therefore do so if he wishes. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise. Judge for Yourself!