Botswana main opposition party, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), is allegedly heading for a split unless the burning issue of constituency allocation is resolved at their congress next month, this publication has learnt. At the centre of the political storm, which has been brewing since last year, is Botswana Congress Party’s (BCP) proposal to be given some of the constituencies allocated to Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Though the party leadership has been mum about the issue, some of their foot soldiers have made it clear that they want some of the constituencies currently held by BMD. Some within BMD have indicated that BCP is in cohorts with BNF to try and elbow them out of key constituencies on grounds that they do not have following.
UDC President Duma Boko has already given a hint that there is simmering conflict among the contracting partners during the press briefing on Thursday. “Parties have been allocated constituencies with the understanding that they are only holding down the fort for and are representing the UDC in those particular constituencies. No one or no party has absolute rights over any constituency. The constituencies belong to the UDC; they have been allocated to parties, who are tasked with ensuring that the UDC wins,” he said at a Botswana National Front (BNF) press conference on Thursday in Gaborone. According to Boko, no member party of the UDC will be exempted from this arrangement and the UDC will review the strengths of all party candidates fielded in various constituencies prior to the 2019 General elections. The BCP walked out of the Umbrella negotiations in 2012 following disagreements over constituencies’ allocation, a move that they have since regretted. “The ultimate requirement is that the UDC must win those constituencies, and in due course the UDC will then have to audit to examine what its prospects are with the candidate and with whatever preparations are in any given constituency,” said Boko.
Explaining that they will assess if parties have strong candidates in constituencies allocated to them and if this is not the case they will agree to source such a candidate from other member parties. “Even after each party elects their preferred candidate, we will scrutinise the candidates and replace those we deem not fit enough by those we think can win it for us from any party under the UDC. We will not be discriminating on any one, even we at the BNF have decided to examine and assess if we have strong candidates in our constituencies,” he said.While BMD has maintained that they will determine as party who stand in the 14 constituencies they have been allocated, Boko has informed members of the media that BMD has no autonomy over the constituencies. Addressing BMD members at their special congress in Lobatse late last year Sidney Pilane said there won’t be any discussion regarding the allocation of constituencies for parties within the UDC. “The issue of incumbency still remains relevant in the UDC and BMD will hold its constituencies whether the legislator or councillor is there or has left.” As a warning shot and glimpse of what is to come in February, Boko quashed the reasoning by BMD President Pilane by stating that the constituencies belong to the UDC not the contracting parties. "The constituencies belong to the UDC and allocated to the parties to manage and choose best candidates. Even after each party elects their preferred candidate, we will scrutinise the candidates and replace those we deem not fit enough by those we think can win it for us from any party under the UDC," fired Boko.
Before the ink could dry on the statement by Boko, Advocate Pilane hit back dismissing the statement by his party president. “We own 14 constituencies within the UDC arrangement. Nobody, not the UDC nor anyone else, is going to tell us how to deal with our constituencies, and nobody is going to vet our candidates,” he said on social media, adding that UDC is an umbrella, electoral arrangement and doesn’t control the contracting parties. Observers have indicated that while cracks in the UDC widened following a disagreement over constituency allocation, divisions have been simmering over a long period after the split of BMD after the bloody Bobonong congress. Sources intimate with the UDC have revealed that a split will be motivated by those who control the party ahead of the 2019 General Elections. Highly placed sources within UDC have revealed that BCP is pushing for the reallocation of constituencies after the split of BMD and will present the proposal at the congress. Some of the constituencies that BCP are allegedly targeting and which have been allocated to BMD are – Gaborone Central, Maun West, Gaborone North, Francistown South, Mogoditshane and Bonnington South. Most of the BCP bigwigs including party President Dumelang Saleshando, Secretary General Kentse Rammidi, National Chairperson Motsei Rapelana and former National Organising Secretary Vain Mamela and Akanyang Magama do not have constituencies. Saleshando is said to be targeting either Gaborone Central or Maun West, Rapelana is allegedly interested in Gaborone North which she contested in 2014 but that might prove difficult as Pilane is also eyeing it.
Former BCP Youth League President Tumiso Rakgare fancies his chances at Mogoditshane where he did well in 2014, coming second after Sedirwa Kgoroba. BMD Publicity Secretary Winfred Rasina said that as far as they are concerned the issue of constituency allocation has long been closed and they are now focusing on sharing of the council wards. “We will field candidates in all the 14 constituencies that have been allocated to us,” he said. The issue of the two vice presidents within the UDC will also be addressed with some within BNF and BCP feeling that there is no need to have two. The two parties are pushing for Saleshando to be Boko’s running mate in 2019, and those close to the political chess game within the UDC said BMD won’t let that happen without a fight. Since being voted as BMD President and subsequently becoming UDC Vice President, Pilane is yet to address a joint political rally with Boko and Saleshando.
Efforts to get comment from BCP Publicity Secretary Dithapelo Keorapetse hit a snag as he did not respond to a text message sent to him though it indicated that he has read it.