To Botswana Congress Party (BCP) diehards, they have seen more difficult times than the current. The resignation of just one MP is something they can survive. While Party President Dumelang Saleshando insists that it is too early to write them off, critics warn that the party’s days are numbered. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO reports.
The Botswana Congress Party’s (BCP) dismal performance in the 2014 General Elections unleashed doubts about its future. With only three legislators having made it to the 10th parliament, sympathisers argued that the party still had a chance to make a comeback especially by closing ties with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) while on the other hand some critics had already written its obituary. Despite the fact that subsequent to the general elections the BCP at its elective congress in Kanye last year resolved among others to resume cooperation talks with the UDC, the party suffered another blow recently when one of its most active legislators, MP for Okavango, Bagalatia Arone jumped ship to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Arone’s move has not only fuelled confusion and panic in the opposition rank but has somehow given some sought of credence to those who argued that the BCP is but a dead party. The question that remains now however is whether the BCP, limping as it is, is still relevant as an alternative to the ruling party or better still is an attractive potential partner to the UDC.
The President responds
The BCP President Dumelang Saleshando as expected is putting up a brave face in the midst of this. Just like any other leader, he is worried when the organisation he leads loses members. But though rattled by Arone’s defection from the party, he insists that there is no need to panic as the BCP has everything under control. “I can assure you that the BCP will soon find a much stronger candidate than Bagalatia Arone to represent it in the Okavango constituency,” he maintains. The BCP leader dismisses insinuations that the BCP might be on the brink of drowning following Arone’s defection, saying that whoever can claim that one political party’s life would depend on one individual would be clueless about local politics. According to Saleshando, the BCP has in the past gone through the toughest of experiences, defections even. But at the end of it, he says, it emerged even stronger. He cites the defections of some of its founding members who held even more influence and prominence in the party at the time where it was still a budding political party but nonetheless it stood firm and didn’t fall apart. “The likes of Otlaadisa Koosaletse who was party President, Mokgweetsi Kgosipula who was Deputy Secretary General and Paul Rantao defected from the BCP and instead of the party falling apart we became even stronger,” charges Saleshando.
He says the BCP leadership recently toured the Okavango constituency to give assurance to its members that the party still has their best interest at heart. Although he accepts that the BCP did not perform well in the past General Elections he says the party has nonetheless showed that with time it can still make a comeback. “Our performances in by-elections that has so far been held following the 2014 General Elections shows impressive results by the party,” he says.
Saleshando is also adamant that the BCP will retain Kelemogile ward in Ramotswa despite the massive and ‘colourful’ shows which has so far been staged by the BDP to campaign for their candidate in the by-election. “At this point we have to accept that the BDP is desperate and is bound to use the BCP to weaken and discredit opposition cooperation to the electorates by among others luring its members to defect,” he says. He is, however, confident that this was just but “a storm that we will overcome”. In the interim, the party continues to conduct training workshops for its members in an effort to raise awareness and ensure that what the party stand for, its fundamental values and promise to the nation is communicated to them. The outspoken leader doesn’t hide the fact that his party is more than ready to engage in cooperation talks with the UDC but could not be drawn into discussing how far along they were.
The renowned political analyst is of the view that the BCP‘s life line currently hang on making sure that cooperation talks with the UDC materialise.
“It looks like that is the way to go,” says Maundeni. According to Maundeni the recent departure of Okavango MP from the party should on the contrary give them momentum to speed up cooperation talks. “It should make them realise that standing alone will not do them any good but rather leave them vulnerable,” Maundeni says. Maundeni was however of the view that the initial stance by the BCP from previous cooperation talks; that they be allocated constituencies basing on the number of seats they have in parliament might create problems for them this time around and hence they basing their bargaining in the talks on popular vote representation could work for them,. “The party’s popular vote results were quite impressive it could work for them,” he says. The outcome of the cooperation talk according to Maundeni will however depend on the flexibility of the parties.
Another local political analyst, Anthony Morima however opines that the future looks a bit bleak for mogobagoba. According to Morima, the BCP is currently at its lowest point and will enter the opposition coalition talks weak and wounded. “The BCP has currently lost its bargaining power and as a result has lost the opportunity to get most of the things they could have got say five or six months back,” he says. Morima shares Maundeni’ sentiments that sticking to their initial hardball bargaining of demanding to be allocated specific parliamentary seats of their choice will be a deal breaker, as it will either upset the BMD who have majority of parliamentary seats in the UDC or will interfere with the UDC‘s plans to reward some of its trade unionist partners with the said seats. “I understand a number of high profile trade unionists have intentions to contest the 2019 General Elections and if the BCP demands to be given the same seats eyed by the former, I don’t see the UDC sacrificing their partnership with them to give way to the BCP,” he says. The issue of the BCP president being given the UDC Vice Presidency, according to Morima, will also be a deal breaker if the BCP sticks to it, as the BMD is likely to want their candidate in, instead.
If the status quo remains and the BCP decides to forge ahead with the talks, which according to Morima will be difficult, it will have to compromise a lot in order to stay afloat. “If they miss the opportunity to forge a healthy relationship with the UDC from the talks then I do not see a future for them post 2019; that is if the UDC too does not fall apart,” says Morima.
Most high profile BCP members who came back from the party’s elective congress last year disgruntled are also bound to continue leaving the party and from the look of things, the BDP will be their next stop. “The fact that most of these high profile members are currently silent despite the recent unsettling activities in the party is a bit disturbing and can only mean one thing,” Morima says. Defecting to the BDP he says is currently the most attractive option to these members, Morima says because most of them are against opposition coalition anyway and by the look of things chances of BDP retaining power in 2019 is quite high.