With a by-election on Saturday and the race for Tlokweng on the final stretch STAFF WRITER DITIRO MOTLHABANE argues that the arrival of former Specially Elected MP Shirley Segokgo has tilted the scale in favour of the opposition.
Shirley Segokgo's defiance against her own party, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), is by far the biggest demonstration of deep seated divisions within the ruling party in the constituency. It is an explosion of long standing internal bickering, which the party has been trying to downplay in previous elections. Once again, these divisions will on Saturday deliver the constituency to the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) more or less in a similar fashion as in the 2014 elections when the late Same Bathobakae walloped Olebile Gaborone by over two thousand votes. Gaborone had defected to the BDP after he was voted in by the Botswana National Front (BNF) in 2009. Shirley's late announcement of her candidacy is synonymous with developments in the contest for the Chairmanship of BDP where Nonofo Molefhi only recently started challenging Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Although the Masisi camp pretends they are not worried about his challenger, saying he is exercising his democratic right, deep down in their hearts they are scared to the marrow. That Shirley's move has rattled the BDP is without doubt. Perhaps sensing the tension that threatens to tear the BDP apart in Tlokweng, Chairman Mokgweetsi Masisi has called for calm and suspended campaigns for central committee positions as that undermines efforts to reclaim the constituency.
BDP distances itself from Shirley
Last week party Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane tried, yet unconvincingly, to distance her candidature from the BDP. Nowhere in his statement did Ntuane make it categorically clear that Shirley is no longer a member of the BDP, or at least what action will be taken against her for defying a majority decision of fielding Katse. Instead Ntuane claimed that she has not been active in the party since her nomination as MP ended in 2009. "Even as the party is in the process of updating membership records she has not stepped up to comply. Her candidacy has nothing to do with the party...," said Ntuane. As the ruling party, the BDP troubles in Tlokweng are compounded by numerous other factors among them shortage of serviced land, shortage of pastures, deteriorating education results, escalating crime aggravated by proximity to the city, growing unemployment, water supply challenges, and general mismanagement by the current administration. These issues are fodder for political opponents of the ruling party. Lately there has been growing frustration from Tlokweng residents about being disenfranchised by President Ian Khama's delay to issue the writ of elections setting a date for the by-election. Since the demise of MP Bathobakae in November 2016 the constituency has remained without a representative in Parliament for six months, missing the just ended budget session. To many observers failure to resolve internal disputes in the BDP branch was the main cause for the delay although the BDP has defended themselves; saying the President was exercising powers vested on him by the law. BNF Publicity Secretary and UDC Labour Secretary, Justin Hunyepa, accuses Khama of holding the nation at ransom by refusing to issue the writ as his party is embroiled in a bitter factional fight. Hunyepa also says another plus for the opposition is that Katse has in the past taken Khama to court over the BDP 2014 primary elections after he was replaced by Gaborone in the national polls, despite winning Bulela Ditswe. "Khama has never forgiven Katse and such speculation has been fuelled by the emergence of an independent candidate whose membership with the BDP has not been denounced, at least not publicly. The BDP candidate's posters are not graced with Khama's portraits as it is the party tradition. He has refused with his image. The split of BDP votes will boost the UDC to triumph," says Hunyepa, insisting that UDC can do much better in solving socio-economic problems.
The BDP cannot even bank on history to win Tlokweng. Since the poor showing at the 2014 General Elections, the party has continued on the downward spiral, losing almost all by-elections thereafter safe for one. Statistics from the 2014 General Elections show that BDP popular vote dropped drastically to 46.45 percent while the opposition BNF and BCP rose to 30.01 and 20.43 percent respectively while independent candidates made 3.11 percent. Of the 13 919 voters who had registered to vote, 11 525 did cast their vote (82.80 % poll). Back in 2009 the BDP managed a comfortable 53.26 percent popular vote defeating no less than seven opponents, among them six opposition parties and a whole host of independent candidates. Only 9 193 cast their vote from a total 11 433 who had registered to vote, representing 80.41% poll. Indeed the popularity of the BDP was felt throughout the country, especially in the greater Gaborone region where the party swept all seats in Gaborone (except Gaborone Central) and surrounding villages of Ramotswa (then South East South), Mogoditshane, Gabane (then Kweneng South East), Thamaga (Kweneng South), Molepolole, Letlhakeng and Kgatleng West. Even then, Tlokweng (then South East North) remained the odd one out. In that year the BNF's Olebile Gaborone defeated Elijah Katse, albeit by a small margin of just 17 votes. Fast forward to May 2017. The complexion of the players in the political landscape has changed drastically since 2014. All opposition parties have joined forces and are cooperating under the coalition UDC going to 2019. Minor internal scuffles within pact members aside, the UDC is more united than ever recorded in history, at least on the face of it. Last week both parties launched their candidates amidst pomp and fanfare, characterised by massive motorcades, which culminated in political rallies addressed by the leadership to drum up support for their candidate. Led by Masisi, the BDP launched Elijah Fashion Katse on Saturday while Aero’s Jazz Bar grounds were a hive of activity on Sunday when UDC President Duma Boko launched its candidate, Kenneth Masego Segokgo. BPP's Motlatsi Molapise, BMD's Ndaba Gaolathe and BCP's Dumelang Saleshando also addressed the rally. The May 13 by-election follows the demise Tlokweng MP Same Bathobakae of the UDC on 28 November 2016. Political analyst Anthony Morima is however of the view that as much as Segokgo is likely to split opposition votes she is also likely to get a substantial number of votes from the BDP. "Some disgruntled voters from the BMD are likely to vote for Segokgo due to the conflicts that are currently marring the party, however let’s not forget that Katse’s candidacy is also surrounded by controversy, hence some BDP voters might just opt to vote for Segokgo, as she used to be an influential BDP leader in the constituency,” said Morima.
Shirley Segokgo speaks
The defiant former MP rubbishes all that has been said about her and says her decision to contest the Tlokweng parliamentary seat is solely based on her conscious as a woman to break the norm and just like the late Same Bathobakae, stand firm as a woman and make a difference. According to Segokgo, she has been a member of the Tlokweng Land Board until the end of March this year, hence her late entrance to the race. “Originally I had no intentions of contesting in the by-elections, but after my term at the land board lapsed it immediately dawned on me that we had lost our MP who was a woman, and what better way as a woman to emulate her than to contest more so that both candidates who had shown intent to contest are both men,” she said. According to Segokgo, the low number of women representation in Parliament is a cause for concern, and as a woman she cannot be seen to be just as a spectator in this. “It is time to have a balance in all spheres of life including in politics. Women need to have the courage to partake in the process of democracy by ensuring that electorates are given a choice,” said Segokgo. On reports that she is a close member of President Ian Khama’s inner circle, Segokgo vehemently denied such, dismissing that as ‘blue lies’. She claimed that even her resignation from the party was tendered to the Party secretariat, and that she never even bothered routing it through Khama first. She is a former specially elected Member of Parliament and reckons this on its own right gives her an added advantage against her competitors because she has an idea of what is required of her and how to strategically execute her agenda when she gets into the house. Being an independent candidate she says also provides her with a rare opportunity of not being limited by partisan strategies and decisions and instead advocate for what she sees and feels is needed in her constituency. “I have since resigned from the BDP. My main focus is to push my own agenda, which is ensuring that women’s voice in Parliament is heard and their contribution to democracy is increased; hence ensuring the success of the women agenda,” she said. Segokgo denied ever fighting with Katse or ever being influenced by BDP leaders to frustrate his efforts to win the constituency. “Look, Katse has his agenda and I have mine; whether my candidature will affect his votes in any way or not that is up to voters to decide. May the best candidate win,” said Segokgo. Her primary focus, she said, will be on education; ensuring that students who are struggling attain better results and those who need to further their studies are assisted accordingly. Going forward she intends to establish a fund which will cater for youth empowerment and the financial needs of those experiencing hiccups in education. If she wins she intends to pledge 50 percent of her salary towards the fund and lobby other parents and institutions to contribute. Segokgo has vowed never to return to the BDP or join any other party if she loses, saying she is committed to a specific mandate as an independent candidate which requires non-partisan status and going back will be tantamount to betrayal.