Political analysts have cautioned the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to tread carefully when dealing with the newly registered Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and the influence that its sponsor, former president Ian Khama, holds.
Led by Tati West MP Biggie Butale -who was suspended from BDP and fired as the Assistant Minister of Health last month-BPF was registered on Wednesday. It is the latest offspring of the ruling party following an earlier split that gave birth to Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) in 2010. Its interim chairperson is another disgruntled democrat, Tlokweng specially nominated Councillor Roseline Panzirah-Matshome who left the BDP after she was removed from the national strategy, communications and international relations sub-committee.
University of Botswana (UB) political analyst Léonard Sesa warned that BPF is likely to dent the performance of BDP in the October general elections should the party take the split for granted. He said the split has long been predicted due to growing tension in the standoff between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor Ian Khama ahead of the crucial Kang elective congress. “At the moment BDP has no reason to take the breakaway members lightly, including Khama. Khama is still very powerful and influential man. As election days draws near the BDP will feel his absence. Masisi should not take this BPF for granted at all,” he opined.
Most importantly, Sesa said the BDP should be worried more about constituencies in the Central district which is not only their traditional stronghold but also happens to be Khama's chieftainship territory. He said the masses that Khama pulled in his previous two consultative meetings in Serowe and elsewhere across the country where he convenes meetings reflects how popular he still stands. “It is important also to highlight that Khama is financially stable to finance the party. Therefore BPF will not be short of funds to roll out campaigns since it has now been registered and looking to launch in Kanye,” he said.
"Launching in Kanye is another strategic move to win over a large number of people to attend the party congress since there are many disgruntled Bulela Ditswe losers in constituencies in that area,” Sesa said.
Another political analyst Anthony Morima said the continuous resigning of BDP stalwarts who are likely to jump ship to BPF such as John Mazabathi Mokandla should be cause for concern to Masisi. He also said BDP has already made losses of three of its MPs, being Biggie Butale who has since joined BPF, Guma Moyo who is linked to the party as well as the suspended Lerala Maunatlala MP Prince Maele.
Maele has since announced that he will contest as an independent candidate in the elections, thus taking away a number of supporters from the BDP with him. “BDP so far has lost maverick MPs whose constituencies form part of their stronghold in the central region. With more independent candidates on the pipeline from BDP, especially those who lost in Bulelwa Ditswe likely to fall for Khama and join BPF, it is a big problem that BDP needs to deal with,” Morima charged.
He, however, applauded BDP’s positive response to the BPF split, saying that two launches of Slumber Tsogwane and Mpho Balopi have shown that the BDP is not taking anything for granted.
Sesa also warned that it is not a foregone conclusion that BDP's loss will translate to opposition gain, unless defectors had joined opposition parties – Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) or Alliance for Progressives (AP) – directly instead of forming another.
He said the arrival of yet another opposition party will cause further vote splitting among them thus giving the ruling BDP an edge over a divided opposition, a scenario similar to 2014 when the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) refused to join the coalition.
Morima, on the other hand, opined that UDC at the moment stands out as a resilient opposition party, and therefore working with BPF will be more of blessing in disguise. He, however, warned that the standoff over the BMD court case is likely to harm the process of election preparations.