Masisi faces unhappy BDP caucus
An unhappy group of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs is headed for a showdown with party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane over the floor crossing Bills that will be brought to Parliament, which starts on Monday, under a huge cloud of controversy.
The Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Kabo Morwaeng and his colleague at Local Government and Rural Development, Eric Molale will from next week bring to Parliament on urgency, Bills that will effectively block sitting MPs and Councillors from defecting to a different political party. Should the Bills be passed into law, a sitting MP or Councillor will lose incumbency should they choose to change political affiliation as the new law will declare the seat vacant.
An Amendment Bill, 2020- Bill No.14 of 2020 was published in the Government Gazette of 17th July 2020. “The object of the Bill is to insert a new paragraph 1 (d) at Section 68 to cause a vacancy in the seat of an Elected Member of the National Assembly who, having been elected to the National Assembly as a candidate for political party, resigns from the political party,” reads part of a Bill.
During the 1st session of the 12th Parliament (starting Monday), Tsogwane will have his job cut out trying to marshal forces to win enough support for the Bills among fellow democrats.
Opposition MPs have already announced that they will oppose the Bills as they believe they are being used by the BDP leadership, led by President Mokgweetsi Masisi to stem looming defections from their backbench.
Several councillors, particularly from the Central District, have recently resigned from the BDP to join the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). A number of disgruntled BDP MPs, particularly from the backbench, have also openly criticised the party leadership, differed with caucus decisions and publicly dismissed government policies while attacking cabinet ministers who are fellow democrats.
Most of the BDP MPs, who have been at loggerheads with the party leadership, have been mentioned in the list of prominent figures suspected to be on their way to join BPF.
Information reaching this publication suggests that angry BDP backbenchers have secretly expressed intent not to support the Bills, unhappy with how Masisi is handling matters in the party. The BDP backbench is demanding an urgent meeting with Leader of the House –Tsogwane – to address their grievances first over what they view as intimidation by Masisi before they can consider the floor crossing Bills.
“The President should know that he is in Parliament by virtue of us MPs who are elected from our constituencies. We are sidelined in the party and we are not happy with the level of threats that is posed to members when voicing out their concerns,” said one MP.
BDP MPs demand that Masisi be told to stop infringing their freedom of expression, calculated at silencing them not to disagree with the party. Last week Masisi suspended Francistown West MP Ignatius Moswaane and the former Mmopane-Lentsweletau MP and cabinet minister Vincent Seretse, accusing them of tarnishing the image of the BDP or bringing the party into disrepute.
The suspension of the two members didn’t seat well with some MPs who feel they were targeted to be reprimanded. They join another democrat – Nata/Gweta MP Polson Majaga – who has been on suspension since May. Moswaane has been consistently attacking the BDP government over many issues, but more predominantly about rampant corruption.
Another backbencher said they are planning to reject the upcoming Bills by consistently collapsing quorum if Tsogwane does not address their concerns satisfactorily.
The proposed Bills have sparked mixed reactions with the opposition MPs making it clear that they will not support a law designed to save the BDP from disintegration when its MPs defect en masse. Wide spread allegations have been that some unhappy MPs within BDP would defect to join BPF, which has been gaining many councillors from the BDP lately.
University of Botswana (UB) political analyst, Mokaloba Mokaloba, said the Bills are being rushed through Parliament overlooking a number of inherent loopholes. He said on any other day, the opposition would have welcomed the Bill but the timing is what worries them. He said the BDP could use their numerical superiority to bulldoze the Bills into law.
“The Bills in my opinion are being rushed. Like other rushed bills before they are likely to pass due to the dominance of BDP in numbers in Parliament. If the vote was a secret vote, maybe we could see BDP MPs aligning with opposition to throw the Bills out,” Mokaloba buttressed.
Another UB political scientist, Leonard Sesa, said the proposed Bill is a welcome development, noting that it is fair to both the representatives and voters. He said in the past defectors were unfair to voters as they migrated with their seats. He is of the view that political representatives have for a long time been making mistakes of jumping ship with electorates' vote without consultation.
“Through this Bill individual political representatives will be held to account for votes of those who elected them into office. In my personal view I support it,” Sesa highlighted.
The opposition and some of BDP are of the view that the Bill is self-serving and tends to breach the ultimate practices that Botswana’s democracy was laid on such as freedom of association. BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi was not available for comment as his mobile phone was off.