The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) on Friday officially announced the conclusion of unity talks which started in 2015 – signalling the formation of single coalition of opposition parties for the first time in the history of Botswana politics. The launch was dominated by citations from scripture in the Bible by all the four opposition leaders. Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) President Motlatsi Molapisi was conspicuous by his absence at the launch due to ill-health but in his place stood Takula Lenyatso-the vice president. Launching the historic coalition, UDC President Duma Boko cautioned members to mediate their differences with civility and avoid exchanging words that can inflict irreparable pain on others. One of the thorny issues, which BCP President Dumelang Saleshando described as "the elephant in the room" was the allocation of constituencies. He said parties to any negotiation should not expect to have all their wishes granted, unless they are negotiating with themselves. He emphasised that compromise has to be reached for progress to achieve set goals. BNF and BCP emerged the biggest winners in the allocation of constituencies as they got 22 and 17 respectively, while BMD was allocated 14 and BPP got four.
BPP wants more seats
Saleshando's loaded statement could have been an attempt to cajole BPP to accept the outcome after sources revealed that the party has written to the contracting parties complaining about the number of constituencies they have been allocated. Boko confirmed that it is true that BPP want to be allocated one more constituency. Inside sources have revealed that the BPP leadership want a constituency in Gaborone. Meanwhile, the BMD and BCP have been given the two vice President slots while BPP retained the national chairperson position. Asked what will happen should they take power in 2019 as the country constitution allows for one Vice President, Boko said they will look for a constitutional dispensation that will accommodate the aspirations of the people, which means the country could have two vice presidents when UDC takes power. He said they have taken a decision to abolish the position of Secretary General and have its duties allocated to one of the VPs. The parties each shared the remaining positions within the National Executive Committee (NEC) with BCP getting Treasurer and Gender affairs; BMD the National Coordinator and Youth Affairs Secretary; BPP - the Administrative Secretary and Legal Affairs while BNF got Head of Communications and Labour Secretary.
Boko announced that the contracting parties will continue pursuing a Social Democratic Programme (SDP). “The policy framework will be shared with all key national stakeholders to ensure that our programme is truly aligned with the aspirations and wishes of our people,” he said. He said the aim of the social democratic policy is to strike a judicious balance between economic growth, human-centred development and social justice. The SDP is founded upon the promotion of a welfare state and establishment of economic democracy as a means of securing the rights of workers and the general populace.
Ahead of the launch there was allegedly a heated meeting between UDC parliamentarians, some of whom expressed reservation on how the deal was struck. It is alleged that some of the MPs threatened to boycott the historic launch as a way of expressing their disdain. Most BMD MPs were visibly absent at the launch. The only BMD MPs present were BMD Policy Director Dr Tlamelo Mmatli – the MP for Molepolole South – and Mochudi West MP Gilbert Mangole – Secretary General for BMD – in addition to party president and MP for Bonnington South, Ndaba Gaolathe. Contacted for comment, BMD Vice President Wynter Mmolotsi said he would have loved to attend the launch but had other commitments in his constituency. “Remember that Parliament is opening next week and I have to address kgotla meetings,” he said. Mogoditshane MP Sedirwa Kgoroba, who had expressed unhappiness on how the negotiations went about, also said that he had other commitments and couldn’t make it to the historic launch.
Political Scientist Ndulamo Morima said it was very important for MPs to have attended the event as it is historic and represents a turning point for opposition politics in Botswana.“Their absence is a clear indication that something is not right within the coalition,” said Morima, adding that it was premature to launch the project while there were still pending issues to be ironed out. “Perception in politics is always right and I think they could have organised pre-launch activities and visited constituencies to rally the nation behind the project and get their views before the launch,” said Morima.
BCP MPs, councillors to switch to UDC
Though the UDC and BCP announced the coalition on Friday, BCP MPs and councillors will not immediately cross over to UDC. BCP Publicity Secretary Dithapelo Keorapetse said the UDC project is work in progress as they have to amend the constitution and file it with Registrar of Societies. “We also have to inform the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) about the new development and register a new symbol,” said Keorapetse, adding that after everything has been fulfilled they will formally cross over to UDC both in Parliament and councils.