With the dust settling on the 36th Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) elective congress held last week in Mmadinare the real work of rebuilding the party, which has been on a downward spiral, begins. But some within the party are already positioning themselves for 2018 post Khama presidency, writes PHILLIMON MMESO.
The Mmadinare congress presented an opportunity and a pedestal for Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi to affirm his position as the second most powerful man in the party and the country.It was a decisive congress as it came after the general elections in which the ruling party for the first time in history got less than 50 per cent of popular vote. Some political commentators predicted fireworks at the congress as there were five candidates vying for the position of chairman including Vice President Masisi and two former cabinet ministers Tebelelo Seretse and Ramadeluka Seretse. Other candidates included Tati West Member of Parliament Biggie Butale and businessman Moemedi Dijeng.
Pressure was on Masisi whose loss was going to dent his chances of assuming presidency in 2018 and had to prove that he is popular among the democrats. Ahead of the congress some political pundits predicted that Masisi who was regarded as not so popular politician will win with marginal votes against seasoned politician Seretse but he proved his mettle by winning with a convincing margin.
He snatched the position by garnering 582 votes against Seretse’s 219, a margin of 363 votes while other candidates registered less than 100 votes. One of the reasons that might have led to his victory is the fact that BDP members respect the office that he held (Vice Presidency) and was referred as ‘mogolo (elder)’. He was also accused of using state resources to campaign while other candidates relied on their own resources and goodwill of their supporters.
At the congress he had a camp dedicated to his supporters which was nicknamed ‘camp Dubai’ since it was well resourced and its residents were given a five star treatment. Masisi proved that he is a seasoned politician and used every political trick to win the hearts of democrats and it paid off as he managed to take grip of the party.He now wields power both in government and within the BDP putting him in a better position to captain both ships as he is left with two and half years to take control of government from President Ian Khama.
Political commentator Lawrence Ookeditse said Masisi has now affirmed himself as the second most powerful person in the country after he convincingly won the chairmanship position. “Now he has the democratic numbers backing his ascendancy to the second highest office in the country,” said Ookeditse. He said that power dynamics have now drastically changed and if the BDP can call a special congress, Masisi will confidently stand and win. “He has control of the two institutions being government and the BDP and will be able to cement his authority in both of them,” Ookeditse said.
Khama is still in control of the BDP and political dynamics have not changed much, reasoned another political analyst Ndulamo Morima. “Remember that BDP has resolved at their congress to have Khama as their face of campaign in the 2019 elections and this shows that he is still in control,” said Morima.Morima reasoned that although Masisi won at Mmadinare elective congress, the fact that all the candidates for the chairmanship stood their ground to contest without paving way for him is a sign that he is not yet in full control of the BDP. Two cabinet ministers Kitso Mokaila and Tshekedi Khama didn’t endorse Masisi but went for Ramadeluka Seretse and Tebelelo Seretse respectively. Morima, however, concurred with Ookeditse that Masisi’s election to the chairmanship position of BDP has given him legitimacy to the presidency and improved the respect he commands within the BDP structures.
Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane
It was always clear that BDP’s prodigal son was going to win the secretary general position as he was standing against the seemingly unpopular former cabinet minister Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri. Ntuane has proposed some reforms within the BDP if it is to become relevant to the voters ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Surprisingly a week before the elective congress, the outgoing central committee appointed a new executive secretary and political officer which some felt is intended to dilute Ntuane’s influence within the party secretariat. Merapelo Moloise was announced as the new Executive Secretary taking over from Sechele Sechele while Ame Makoba assumed the post of political officer. Some BDP faithful felt that the outgoing Central Committee could have left the appointments to the incoming committee.
The inclusion of former secretary generals, Thato Kwerepe and the past immediate Secretary General Mpho Balopi has raised some eyebrows in some quarters with some commentators feeling that they might overshadow Ntuane. Morima contends that the inclusion of the two in the central committee is a clear indication that battle lines have been drawn within the current central committee. “Ntuane should by now know that he is going to face some opposition within the central committee especially with the reforms that he wants to introduce,” he said.
Instead of bolting out, Morima says that Ntuane should stay put and fight to the bitter end. On the other hand Ookeditse believes that President Khama might have included the two into the committee in order to strengthen the position of Secretary General. “If Ntuane makes use of their experience it can strengthen his position. Remember that Balopi is one the people who has managed to help BDP to brand itself and Ntuane can use him in that regard,” said Ookeditse. He cautioned that should Ntuane see them as a threat to his position it might compromise his work.
While many people were surprised by the return of former BDP strong man Daniel Kwelagobe to the central committee as additional member, Nonofho Molefhi proved that he is one of the most well respected politicians within BDP. He garnered 460 votes which was the highest as the second most popular additional member was Botlogile Tshireletso who got 355 votes. Though one of the quiet politicians in the BDP, Molefhi was one of the few cabinet ministers tipped to become Vice President after the 2014 general elections.
Ookeditse said that Molefhi has a latent energy and has a soft power which is able to hold on people. “Since he is a quiet politician and very principled, whenever he speaks people listen attentively,” said Ookeditse, adding that this could culminate into more things but he has to be more forward. “Age is not on his side and he has to take a more meaningful role within the position which has more influence rather than just being an additional member,” he said.
Morima shared Ookeditse’s sentiments, adding that this is sign that Molefhi is a political powerhouse but warns that he has to manage it well as some might try to destroy him. “Remember currently people are positioning themselves to become vice president post 2018 and if some them feel that he is a threat to their ambitions they might try to discredit him,” said Morima, giving the example of Samson Guma who had ambitions of leading the country but was sabotaged.