As Batswana ready themselves for this year’s general election expected to be held later in October, two political parties are in my view, the front runners. Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is the party in government having won the last election in October 2014 albeit narrowly. It has the benefit and advantage of incumbency. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is the official opposition in the National Assembly which according to the results of the 2014 general election, performed probably beyond its own expectations. No offence is intended at other political parties contesting this general election. Consequently, one of the front runners will be declared and announced the winner of this year’s general election whether through a simple majority or a landslide. A landslide for either front runner may be being too ambitious given the contracted space between the BDP and opposition parties.
Since the last general election, a lot of political twists and turns have occurred in the front runners which would have either strengthened or weakened them to either win or lose this election. It is in this contest that I examine these strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses in particular, have in large measure been self-inflicted by both the BDP and UDC because they were avoidable. Let me start with the party in government.
The BDP strengths and weaknesses
This party has throughout the years since independence, demonstrated that it is a formidable party as shown by its consecutive triumphs at elections to date. It is not in dispute that Botswana is where she is because of the BDP particularly that it took over a country that virtually had nothing in terms of financial/human resources, infrastructure amongst others, to kick start building Botswana. Following independence, the BDP proved over the years to be a hard party to beat as naturally, and in the absence of a strong opposition machinery, it attracted a lot of goodwill from the general and greater population and elsewhere. Incumbency as mentioned above, became the underpinning tool for the party to propel itself this far. The long and short of it is that the party has been strong largely because it is the governing party together with other associated factors. But the wheels started to come off when traits of inner democracy became apparent; when ‘it’s our time to eat’ and bolope (sycophancy) were boldly pronounced to all those who cared to listen; when corruption allegedly linked to the mighty and the powerful in the party and government emerged; when party members who are civil servants were barred from actively participating in the bulela ditswe and so on.
There is a narrative that the ascendency of President Masisi to the highest office in the land will change the electoral fortunes of the BDP for the better. While this could be true for his supporters, this view is likely to be derailed by the civil servants who are unhappy about the raw deal occasioned by the failure to implement the recommendations of the PEMANDU consultancy report. Civil servants were promised to benefit handsomely particularly from a monetary point of view as recommended by PEMANDU. What has incensed them big time is that the security agencies have benefitted big time from recent salary hikes. By any measure, this report has put the BDP in a tight corner considering the impact it will have on this election.
But having started fairly well post independence and in the immediate period, it would appear the BDP was overtime falling into the false belief that no other political party could dethrone it for its past achievements let alone its glaring internal instability in one form or the other. Even when there were clear red flags that the party could experience some threats from the opposition collective, the party did not seem to appreciate such threats by employing a SWOT analysis. If the analysis was done, it never brought the desired outcomes. May be the internal threat that came out sharply and with a telling effect was the founding of the breakaway party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) back in 2010 or thereabout whose immediate impact was to reduce the BDP’s popular vote to 47% in the 2014 general election. It will be interesting to see if this figure will be increased or reduced in this election. The BDP has been huffing and puffing with respect to sustainable plans to deal with the socio-economic issues afflicting the nation. The corruption levels have increased in the country to a point where some say corruption is a way of life. I am not interested on who was the President during different stages of corruption manifestation but that the BDP was in power during those stages. I am talking about addressing issues of health care, education, creating opportunities to deal with sustainable and decent jobs. What I hear from the ruling party are more of aspirations to deal with these socio-economic than the desired end products. Sounds like an old broken record as some would say.
The BDP appears to be more weakened by its internal instability issues than those external. And the party would have done well to effectively deal with internal issues to avoid the situation it finds entrenched in because it has the capacity and structures in place to deal with dispute resolutions. The issue that appears to have broken the camel’s back is that of resolving some bulela ditswe (primary elections) disputes. Failure to amicably and speedily resolve these disputes have significantly caused untold harm to the BDP particularly in an election year like this one. Most of the aggrieved members who feel their appeals have not been timely and objectively resolved have left the party to amongst others, join or form the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). Inevitably, this has had unintended consequences for the BDP in terms of weakening its electoral prospects in some respects.
UDC strengths and weaknesses
The UDC as the official opposition in the National Assembly and like I have alluded to above, is a front runner in this year’s election. It would be unreasonable not to recognise this fact. And the party will be emboldened by the fact that it won two parliamentary by elections and almost all council by elections held after the 2014 general election. It is however important to state that while the current UDC composite is not the same due to the expulsion of BMD and the subsequent founding of the Alliance of Progressives (AP) that would naturally diminish its elections prospects, this space has been filled by the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and possibly the BPF. The BPF has itself pronounced that it is ready and willing to help the UDC oust the BDP. The UDC is credited by those competent for its election manifesto for harping at it at every political rally. The reasoning here is that harping at the manifesto is a good election tool to sell it to the electorate. The election campaign of the UDC has seen its leader ‘harassed’ by the State institutions with respect to his tax and aircraft issues. This ‘harassment’ some argue, could backfire on the BDP in the sense that it elevates the profile and status of its leader that could attract some sympathy votes.
Like the BDP, the UDC has also scored its own goals. It is my view that had it maturely dealt with the BMD matter from the beginning, the expulsion of the BMD may have been prevented in some way. There is also the argument that the UDC has not done enough, if anything, to persuade the AP to join it. It may very well be that the UDC felt it was home and dry with the arrival of the BCP. Fair enough. What if the results show that this election was too close to call where the AP influence would have been handy? In the process, the AP could be king maker in the overall electoral outcomes which could rob the UDC of votes which in the expected opposition context, should belong to it. There is also the question of the former President Khama’s role in the opposition politics with respect to the UDC. It appears the UDC has not fully made an official decision on his role except a few non-committal comments by some in the leadership. This is bound to confuse their members. If the BMD case on its dismissal from the UDC and its interlocutory application were not dead in the water, the UDC would have been more weakened.
With the BDP entering this election having lost its immediate past President Ian Khama who was expected to be its chief campaigner for this election, and the UDC entering the same with Khama now on its side to oust his former party, this turn of events has brought an interesting dynamic to this election. It is not easy to dethrone a ruling party due incumbency but history has proved that it is possible. It is important to note that with the BDP’s own goals scored so far, some voters believe President Masisi will win this election. And with the UDC’s own goals as well, voters believe Advocate Boko will also win this election. With the political trajectory unfolding each other day with voters swayed by the front runners each other day, it is safe to conclude that the results will tell us whether these parties’ strengths outweighed their weaknesses or the other way. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise. Judge for Yourself!