The March 05 by-election in Sekoma village - Ngwaketse West constituency – provides a litmus test for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party's (BDP) ability to reverse their dwindling fortunes post 2014. The BDP has to topple the apple cart and scamper the new found love affair formalised last week in a courtship between Umbrella partners and Botswana Congress Party (BCP). As campaigns enter the last lap this week political parties have pooled and deployed resources in massive campaigns following the launch of their candidates last week. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) seeks to retain the council ward, which they won in the 2014 general elections represented by the late Makalare Ngomme. The UDC has deployed Robert Tebogo Rantsho against Keboetseng Case Lebotso of the BDP. It is a two horse race, in political parlance. Not only will Sekoma test the strength of the Umbrella against the Jack. It will also present an opportunity for the UDC to send a clear message to the BDP that even with meagre resources at their disposal a united opposition can bring down the ruling party.
The BDP, on the other hand, is not leaving anything to chance. Like a wounded buffalo, the BDP has assigned party big wigs to camp in Sekoma and lead campaign teams. Mephato Reatile – former BNF Ngwaketse West MP – is leading the BDP campaign against his former comrades. The BDP has gone a step further and flexed their muscle on government controlled media forcing a news blackout on the opposition. The BDP has deployed cabinet ministers to launch massive campaigns in the area ahead of the by-election. Media reports indicate that BDP campaigns are premised on promise for developments, if Sekoma residents vote for the ruling party. The Ministers of Health and Local Government and Rural Development together with his assistant have already been in the area canvassing support. Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi was scheduled to address a star rally on Saturday (yesterday), just a stone throw away from that of the UDC.
Reatile confidently declares victory for the BDP. He says they have done all that needs to be done to win the ward and will be celebrating on March 06. He says their campaign has been going very well without any hitches and the response from potential voters has been positive since they day they started campaigns. Reatile also dismisses accusations that his party abuses state resources and is favoured by government media as their campaigns are broadcast while the opposition does not receive any coverage. "Rona ga re itse sepe ka tsietso. Ke dilo tsa lona ko Gaborone koo, rona ga nke re bona Btv eo," he says dismissively.
UDC, BCP pact test
With the vote splitting factor in the opposition diffused after BCP committed to the looming marriage under the Umbrella through a MoU signed last week and intense campaign has been launched leaving no stone unturned. Already teams of foot soldiers are on the ground scouring the constituency to bring certainty to securing the ward. Even as the Director of Elections at the UDC's Botswana National Front (BNF) - Papiso Kgosikoma – declared on Friday that "our campaign is progressing very well after the launch of our candidate last week" the opposition is alive to the threat posed by Domkrag. UDC draws strength from incumbency, and knows that the ward is theirs to lose. The BCP numbers will be expected to add to the margin of about 300, which the UDC councilor won with in 2014. Buoyed by an impressive performance at the 2014 polls - sending 17 legislators to parliament, and thereafter defeating the well-resourced BDP at every by-election, the UDC has tasted blood and is in a mean mood to cement its conviction that they will dethrone the BDP in 2019.
To demonstrate the importance of the by-election to the UDC, Kgosikoma says they have deployed campaign teams on the ground in all the four cells of Mahotshwane, Sekoma, Keng and Khonkhwa. Each team is led by opposition MPs as coordinators of the campaign. During the week UDC president Duma Boko will return to the constituency to drum up support for their campaign starting with a star rally in Mahotshwane yesterday (Saturday). "The response from voters is positive. Since signing the MoU last week we have been joined by our comrades from the BCP in our campaigns. We are aware that the BDP is abusing state resources in their campaign, even refusing to broadcast our campaign on national television and radio. But we have gotten used to such abuse because they have been doing it all along. Some of their members are also concerned about the news blackout on opposition parties," says Kgosikoma.
The UDC has in turn resorted to using social media and alternative strategies to advance their campaigns, particularly targeting the youth. The use of social media is working wonders for the UDC as it targets the youth, the majority of who are disgruntled due to rising unemployment among their age group. In the country’s estimated 17.8 per cent unemployment rate, the youth who constitute over 51 per cent of Botswana’s population are the hardest hit. The IEC had registered 2522 potential voters for the ward ahead of the October 2014 General elections. The UDC won the ward by 1245 against the BDP's 946 and the BCP 47. IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba could not be reached as he was said to be away on a trip.