EVM protests: Opposition gun for BDP

SHARE   |   Monday, 05 September 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
EVM protests: Opposition gun for BDP

In two weeks, the opposition conglomerate Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) will present a united front in a protest against the controversial Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). The broke opposition bloc, led by Botswana National Front (BNF), will stage frequent mass actions in an attempt to force the ruling party to adopt proposed amendments to the Electoral Act (EA), a strategy the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) looks set to reject. In the meantime, since Parliament went into recess, BDP functionaries have been deployed in constituencies held by opposition in preparation for Bulela Ditswe in 2017. Even as the BDP invades their backyards the UDC remains undecided despite an onslaught recently launched by (BDP) activists in opposition held constituencies, following a July special congress resolution to hold primary elections therein in 2017. Of the 57 parliamentary constituencies contested in 2014 general elections the BDP won 37, UDC 17 and BCP three (3). The BDP has since increased the tally to 38 after the defection of Ngami MP Bagalatia Arone of the BCP last month. At the local authorities level BDP won 311 council seats, UDC 116, BCP 56, while four independent candidates were also victorious. Although the number of seats won present the picture of a clear cut majority for the ruling party, a further analysis of the statistic on polling day shows that the BDP popular vote dropped below 50 percent for the first time in history of the party and the country, to just 46.45%, while that of the amalgamation of three opposition parties contesting under UDC clocked an all-time high of 30.01%, alongside the opposition BCP's 20.43% while independent candidates rose to 3.11%.  Consequently the BDP, therefore, remains in power thanks to the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system.

Although the BDP has – through its Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane – repeatedly argued that they are unscathed by the statistic, on the ground the picture points to the contrary.  It is undisputed that the rise in the opposition popularity and a sudden spike in independent candidates in 2014 were at the expense of the BDP. Ntuane's claim that there is no political party called Opposition which would have defeated the BDP by a 50.44% collective popular vote has become unsustainable as the BCP is picking up strides in their walk into the UDC conglomerate. Opposition parties have already signed a memorandum of understanding leading to a string of victories in recent by-elections. They have also made it public that they wish to formalise the union by the end of the year. To rub it in and send a loud message to the ruling party BNF President Duma Boko, BPP's Motlatsi Molapisi, BCP's Dumelang Saleshando and BMD's Ndaba Gaolathe will share the podium at a victory dinner on October 7 in Goodhope to celebrate Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II's win in Goodhope/Mabule constituency against Presidential Affairs minister Eric Molale. Gaolathe will be the guest speaker at the event. Goodhope/Mabule will also on October 8 hold massive victory celebrations at Rakhuna where the area Councillor defected from the BDP to BNF two weeks ago. They promise to welcome new members.

Although the UDC still faces some internal challenges, the ruling party faces a bigger risk from the combined opposition. In recognition of this threat, soon after the announcement of the 2017 Bulela Ditswe, democrats have gone on intensive campaigns to win the party primaries long before the vetting process gets underway, under the pretext of registering members and reviving structures. The BDP says it is holding early primaries in constituencies held by opposition to allow time for resolution of grievances emanating from Bulela Ditswe and reconciliation ahead of 2019 General Elections. In some quarters the early primaries are viewed as a strategy by the BDP to stretch the under-resourced opposition who are still smarting from an expensive 2014 poll and are recovering from huge debts. Some opposition MPs have told The Patriot on Sunday that they are broke, hence their support for a recent increment on their salaries. Although they welcome the 3 % approved by Parliament they maintain that it is not enough as it is way below that of their counterparts within the region and elsewhere in Africa. "The BDP government refuses to level the playing field with reforms like political party funding. This would enhance our democracy and ensure that politicians compete on an equal footing.

As it is currently politicians, particularly those from the opposition who do not enjoy any funding from big corporations, are impoverished by campaigns. Able-bodied men are reduced to paupers, hence the ease with which the ruling party preys on our members," said UDC's Molepolole North MP Mohammed Khan in an earlier interview. Justin Hunyepa – the BNF mouthpiece – says although his party has not formally considered the BDP's early Bulela Ditswe in constituencies held by opposition, they are monitoring the situation on the ground. To this end, incoming Secretary General Moeti Mohwasa and National Organising Secretary Tona Mooketsi are leading a team from the party to address members in all regions and check structures, ahead of a national tour by the central committee in 2017. "Yes, we may have to come up with strategies to counter them (BDP). But we should not forget that the constituencies were won under the UDC ticket, not individual parties. Therefore a decision on the way forward will be made at that level," said Hunyepa. 

Not boycotting elections, yet
In an effort to force the BDP government to accommodate some amendments into the  EVM, a unity of opposition parties are planning a march in two weeks (on September 17) to protest against the use of EVM, the crisis in Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) and abuse of Btv by the ruling party. "We reject the EVM in its current state. Without the paper trail, elections will not be free and fair. They will be rigged," says Hunyepa. In the event the BDP refuses to embrace the proposed amendments the opposition bloc will stage frequent mass action to force the ruling party to adopt them, the BNF Central Committee has resolved. But some have argued that demonstrations are ineffective because they are simply ignored by government, as has been the case over the years. Could the opposition employ more effective strategies, like boycotting elections? Hunyepa differs with the observation. He explains: "Although their impact may appear to be minimal, demonstrations are a public statement to raise awareness. If our concerns are kept in the public domain it serves as a reminder to the voters who make decisions during elections. The effect may not be immediate but this always shows at the polls, as was the case in 2014. Hence the growing numbers in opposition support, they are listening to our message partly delivered through demonstrations against the wrongs committed by the rulers".

Hunyepa says they are constrained and restricted to cheap methods of protests against government decisions because of acute lack of resources, which has led to some opposition parties failing to set up and run a proper secretariat. On boycotting elections Hunyepa says the CC has not considered the possibility as they remain hopeful that things will not come to that. "We will take the decision on the next course of action after the BDP government has been engaged. We don't want to pre-empt any outcome," he says.