Ed Martin, the erstwhile Missouri Republican Party Chairman said “When a campaign ends and you lose, everyone disappears. Gone and instant. Staff, volunteers, supporters, all seem to fade away. It’s like the clock runs down to 0:00 and the next second everyone is gone. Very disorienting…. And when you don’t win, the biggest thing is everybody fades away very abruptly.” This was reportedly after he lost elections for Congress and Attorney General. In Africa, some political parties that have ruled since independence and lost elections at some point, have not been able to regain political power let alone influencing the political and public discourse. It is in this context that I am arguing the subject matter.
Former President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) ruled Zambia since independence in 1964 until it was defeated by Frederick Chiluba’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 1991 after 28 years in power. In the 2001 election, UNIP won just 10% of the vote by winning a paltry 13 out of 150 seats in parliament. Thereafter, UNIP died a painful but accelerated death. It doesn’t make any more meaningful impact in the country’s body politic as a former governing party. And the main reason for UNIP’s demise was because of low economic growth and chronic mismanagement. It tells us that had UNIP ensured economic growth and avoided chronic mismanagement, there is a good chance that it could still be in power or at the very least, having a meaningful impact on Zambia’s political landscape. In Kenya, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) that ruled that country since independence in 1963, somewhat followed the UNIP’s route as it lost the election in 2002 after 39 years in power. In the 2002 election, KANU won just 29% of the vote or 64 out of 212 seats in parliament then. It now has 349. With these two examples, I am merely bringing these examples to indicate that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) could also follow the same trajectory should it lose this election considering that like these two examples, it is the party that has single-handedly ruled Botswana from as far back as the 30th September 1966.
The BDP is probably facing its toughest election since its founding given the political events unfolding which on the surface, do not favour it to do well in this election. The political upheaval that has of late seen the mass resignation of Councillors from the Central District; the formation of Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and its likelihood of attracting votes which otherwise would accrue to the BDP; the threat posed by the BPF and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) elections cooperation and collaboration and, the likelihood of this cooperation shaking the BDP at its stronghold of the Central District, could remove the BDP from power. Most Batswana have become aware of the grand corruption of epic proportions that has robbed them of the improvement to their socio-economic circumstances aided and abetted by low economic growth itself and of itself occasioned by chronic mismanagement. Right under the BDP watch. Opposition political parties have made Batswana fully aware of this situation. Now that most Batswana are no longer as gullible as they were at independence where they neither heard nor saw any evil, the tables may very well be about to be turned. If my memory serves me well, the BDP has never in its history experienced a serious and palpable threat to its stronghold as it does now. It will be interesting to see how it deals with this threat post this election whether it would have lost or won to regain and calm the burning fires at GaMmangwato.
It may be difficult for the BDP to return to power within five years of losing it. And this is why: A party in government particularly here in the ‘dark continent’ uses its incumbency to create economic and other opportunities for some of its influential members. In South Africa, they call it cadre deployment where the African National Congress as the ruling party deploys most of its members where possible, to strategic positions in government and the State Owned Enterprises not forgetting the diplomatic service space. The same happens here with the cherry on top being deployment as Specially Elected MPs and Councillors. With these opportunities no longer available to the BDP in the event it lost elections, it will almost be the question of every man for himself.
President Masisi has indicated that should he lose this election, he will quit the BDP. The South African newspaper City Press dated 05-06-2019 reported that ‘Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi will quit if, under his watch, the Botswana Democratic Party does not perform well in the upcoming elections….if they don’t vote for us and I am the leader then I think for me not to do further injury to my party, I will quit leading the party….and a new leader will emerge and they might be compelled to change the course and improve the fortunes.’ Just like in the Zambian and Kenyan examples above, it goes without saying that high profile members in parties in these countries somewhat lost interest because there was no longer anything in it, for themselves. President Masisi’s indication at quitting should his party lose may very be an acknowledgement that he senses losing power and therefore preparing himself and those close to him for that eventuality.
Whereas it is an open secret that the BDP has experienced some popular vote decline over the years- for example it was at 54% in 1994; 53% in 2004 and followed by 2014 at 47% against 80% in 1965, the dominance of the BDP as shown by the decline in popular vote over the years has been a red flag that it could be fast approaching the trajectory experienced by UNIP and KANU. Did the BDP learn from these parties’ experiences? It would appear the answer is no. It is my considered view that it became so complacent to the point that in its wildest dreams, it never dreamed of any other political party except itself ruling this country notwithstanding that the opposition has made some sporadic threats to taking power. While President Masisi has recently conceded that had it not been for the Botswana Congress Party staying out of the UDC in 2014, the BDP would by now be occupying opposition benches, he has somewhat remained defiant in public that it is not possible for the BDP to lose power. In private I want to believe, he should be confiding in his kitchen cabinet that it could be the beginning of the end for the once mighty BDP. It is accepted that he has tried to soothe some members of the security services with some pay rises. But it appears he has become stuck with the larger part of the civil service with the trade unions beginning to lose faith in his promises on many fronts. PEMANDU consultancy report recommendations which were in large part meant to reasonably benefit the greater civil service, appears to have hit a cul-de-sac of some sort after some promises thereto.
When all is said and done, the prevailing political temperature appears to be too hot for the BDP to handle. As a last ditch effort to try to stay afloat, there are suggestions that President Masisi may be courting the Alliance for Progressives into some form of election pact. While the AP has dismissed these overtures out-rightly, it is in the interests of the BDP to meaningfully counter UDC/BPF alliance that appears on the surface to be gaining traction. As matters stand, it is almost a foregone conclusion that no single party can win this election on its own. The 12th parliament could produce a scenario requiring some coalition of some sort. And as Ed Martin has said that ‘when a campaign ends and you lose, everyone disappears… Gone and instant’…..And when you don’t win the biggest thing is, everybody fades away very abruptly.’ These words may very be repeated by someone in the BDP or the party itself. Some have suggested that given the holistic and precarious political situation the BDP finds itself in, it is better for it to lose this election, retreat to look itself hard in the mirror and introspect. It may very well be just what the doctor ordered. That said, the BDP could still make us eat the humble pie. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise. Judge for Yourself!