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Disgruntled BDP members pose a serious threat to Masisi

SHARE   |   Monday, 16 December 2019   |   By Adam Phetlhe On Sunday
BDP members at a rally BDP members at a rally

The 23 October 2019 general election has come and gone. In its trail are the victors and the vanquished from across the two leading political parties-the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). For the former, some of the vanquished are not happy that they failed to make a cut to parliament and cabinet while for the latter, it is about failing to unseat the BDP and to put salt to injury, also failing to make it to parliament. This conversation attempts to look at the possible threat posed by the BDP losers to President Masisi in the party. The disgruntled would be those lost seats in the election and were overlooked as Specially Elected MPs and Councillors. As Specially Elected MPs, they would have stood a chance of being appointed to cabinet. Having failed in this dispensation, their last bet to salvage any political relevance is by taking control of the party at the upcoming elective congress in the first quarter of 2020. To do so, they have to put their preferred candidates to stand for elective positions like the all-powerful positions of Chairman and the party Secretary General respectively. 

President Masisi’s power and influence in parliament and cabinet is for now safe and secured barring any political developments that may emerge later during the course of the next five years. This precisely because most of the backbenchers and those in cabinet are new faces whom it could be argued, are still learning the ropes of their new positions and would therefore not want to rock the boat this early. The new faces on the backbench would be cautious not to jeopardise their chances in the event of cabinet reshuffles that will definitely come at one point or the other for whatever reasons. The cabinet members would equally be cautious not to jeopardise their positions lest they become candidates for removal during a cabinet reshuffle. In sum, these two groups would unquestionably be overly loyal to the President for their political survivals. But there are some backbenchers who have made it back to parliament but are disgruntled because they have been overtaken by newcomers to cabinet positions. Chances are that this group, thin on numbers as may be the case, would not successfully influence the new ones for reasons already stated. The disgruntled first point of call will be to align with those who are not in parliament as backbenchers but are somewhere in the political wilderness because they have been overlooked for, at the very least, the Specially Elected Member of Parliament and Council positions.

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The group in the political wilderness consists of former Ministers who did not make it past the bulela ditswe (primary elections) process of the BDP. Some of these will be those who were rumoured to have been promised cabinet and other positions in the event the BDP won the election but such have not been honoured. There were suspicions that this was a ploy to stop them from decamping from the party on the eve of the election like Hon Tshekedi Khama. Newspapers have of late been awash with some who did not make the cut as Specially Elected MPs or Councillors cautiously raising their voices with regards to being overlooked while others were blunt in their displeasure. Whether cautious or blunt, the message has nevertheless been delivered that all that glitters is after all, not necessarily gold. 

The BDP was hard hit in the central district constituencies together with Ngamiland and the Okavango as a result of the 23 October 2019 general election. It would follow therefore that most of the party prominent leaders who lost were largely from these constituencies. One would have thought  President Masisi would have seriously considered the dangers of not rewarding these prominent personalities given the shift of influence of the party in the constituencies they lost with respect to (a) keeping them close to the electorate through cabinet appointments and for the 2024 general election and (b) with regard to the upcoming party national congress wherein there would be no palpable divisions within the party. The President could argue against these suggestions and perhaps justifiably so that these are some of the people who around 2016 or so were stabbing him in the back by courting the then President Ian Khama to dismiss him from the Vice Presidency position. He has himself confirmed that such a group did exist and pushed for his dismissal. But having said that, the President doesn’t have to be reminded that in politics, there are no permanent enemies but permanent interests. His permanent interests in the circumstances would be to consolidate his power and influence in a united party now that such is for now consolidated in parliament and cabinet as alluded to above.  Realistically speaking, is there any threat to the President at the upcoming BDP congress?

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The answer to this question is that in most instances if not all, one is with the President once his/her political interests are secured through some political dispensation of some sort. The moment these interests are threatened or not firmly secured, all hell breaks loose in terms of those whose political interests are not secured. These interests would in these circumstances be secured or furthered by finding another platform for such furtherance. In the context of this conversation, the next appropriate platform would be the BDP elective congress where, for these political interests to be secured, would the disgruntled members have to form some faction of some sort to contest party elective positions with the hope that they will win and be in the party executive positions to influence party decisions. The only safe position is that of the President which is up for grabs only during an election year. The threat is realistically in the offing. What should emerge in the New Year leading to the congress is whether the disgruntled will be brave enough to congregate and strategize in order to mount a comeback of some sort to further their political interests. Under cover conversations on the party elective congress initiative suggest this could be imminent. Can the President repel the threat from the disgruntled?

The President’s foot soldiers who stood by him during the Kang brouhaha are in the main the very people who feel side-lined by specially elected initiatives. While most of those who would have added to the threat have decamped to the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), a new group in the form of the currently disgruntled is the current threat. The group of relatively new back benchers and those in cabinet are yet to plant their footprints in the bigger BDP political landscape. May be lacking the tried and tested mobilising pedigree, this could somewhat leave the President in a very vulnerable position. While the new group who directly won constituencies could argue and correctly so that they were supported by the rank and file, party internal elections are a different kettle of fish. The disgruntled, by and large, could be having an upper hand on account that they have been visible in various party formations as foot soldiers. But like I have said, it will depend on whether they are brave enough to upset the apple cart in order to mount a formidable fight-back. They (new group) will have to fight against their fellow democrats to support the President’s preferred election candidates for given elective positions. The contest will evoke the bulela ditswe and the Kang memories.

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When all is said and done, it is fair to suggest that the aftermath of the general election in the BDP has left many victims who feel the party has left them in the lurch by not offering them some consolation of some sort. While it should be stated these victims know very well that there are few positions that can only accommodate a few of them, they nevertheless feel somewhat entitled to available dispensations over other party members. It will be fair to suggest that these specially elected initiatives should be done away with because they are a catalyst to greater instability in the party as the current circumstances indicate. That said, the disgruntled BDP members pose a serious threat to the President in the party if the murmurings doing the rounds are anything to go by. Only time will tell towards the party elective congress how serious this threat is, if at all. I am prepared to be prepared otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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