As the movers and proponents of the controversial floor crossing Bill otherwise officially referred to as Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (Bill No. 14 of 2020), I expected Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament (MPs) to bring strong and compelling arguments thereto. But lo and Behold and with the greatest of respect to them, their arguments are disappointingly flat as a deflated tyre. As in other Motions brought before parliament by the opposition in recent times, it is my honest believe that however strong and compelling those could be, the BDP’s last line of defence in trashing them by using its numerical strength. The debates by some of the current BDP MPs whom I had expected to raise the bar specifically from their own decorated CVs, have dismally failed to rise to the occasion in debating this Bill let alone others. It is part of accepted parliamentary democracy that numerical advantage is one instrument used to defeat motions from opposition parties. But in defeating these, one expects well-reasoned, strong and compelling arguments to be the overriding measure. Regrettably, the BDP is huffing and puffing with regard to the Bill in question. Mildly put, it is clutching at all political straws for political self-preservation and survival.
Maybe as a point of departure, it is important to interrogate whether the floor crossing Bill is urgent to be brought to parliament with the speed of light over other pressing matters of national importance. It is not! I concur with Hon Motsamai that there are other pressing national matters parliament should be dealing with. These are the high levels of naked and runaway corruption, high levels of unemployment, ravaging Covid-19 pandemic and GBV to name but a few. On that front therefore, there is no element of urgency to be attached to the floor crossing Bill. Urgency in this regard is self-created as they would say in courts.
The BDP is arguing flatly that this Bill was first conceived twenty two years ago; that a survey of some sorts was held in thirty two villages across Botswana and so on. It did not come out clearly whether this was a referendum upon which Batswana positively and in large numbers endorsed termination of floor crossing. This is however the line of argument the BDP is flowing with. MPs kept on saying their constituents have endorsed such termination while some like Hon Majaga conceded that he has not consulted his constituents. It would appear those who claimed to have consulted are saying this is good enough consultation which should act as a measuring tool of some sort to legitimise termination of floor crossing.
But when a referendum of some sorts was proposed by an opposition MP, the BDP replied that the amendment did not require a referendum. Hypocrisy is clearly evident here. Let’s be serious and take ourselves serious folks! Even assuming that a referendum is not provided for, or is not required for the amendment in question, what harm would it present if undertaken? It is not some Constitution of a stokvel that is at stake here. It is that of this Republic. If the BDP argues that some referendum or consultation of some sort was conducted years ago, why is it now a problem to conduct a proper national referendum as part of promoting in the main, participatory democracy? Lucy Atkinson, a Research Fellow at the Constitution Society and Andrew Blick, a lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London wrote in an article titled Referendums and the Constitution that ‘Our starting principle is that referendums can play a valuable democratic role, especially in ensuring that substantial Constitutional change is a consensual process.’ I can’t agree more. It may very well be true that some Batswana want floor crossing to be stopped. It may also very well be that some do not agree. But that can only be conclusively determined through a referendum wherein the electorate confirms or rejects the Bill without second guessing its position and wishes as it is currently the case.
The BDP’s rallying point as motivated by its President is that this amendment is meant to ensure political stability in the party. This is with respect, laughable and disappointing to say the least because such stability should be created by the party itself through its internal processes. The BDP and any other political parties should have such processes to take care of errant members who could cause instability in the parties and also to create and maintain internal cohesion to avoid instability. The BDP must be told to its face that it doesn’t have a God given right to rule Botswana where it can interfere with the country’s Constitution when faced with internal strife-real or imagined. Political parties by their very nature are organisations susceptible to internal instability and should be prepared to deal with them as and when they occur. Is the BDP in any case facing any form of instability particularly from its MPs?
Not at all. I have said it before that the current crop of MPs in parliament is made up in large measure, of new faces who have demonstrated that they are loyal to their President. I have also argued that because these new faces are just starting their political careers they don’t wish to jeopardise them so early, it is highly unlikely that they could revolt against their President and party to cause the collapse of their majority in parliament. Save for one or two old MPs who could defect, this cannot by any stretch of the imagination cause the imagined political instability. Why the BDP appears to be afraid of its own shadow can only be explained by itself. At the grass root level, members will continue to cross the floor. But this cannot cause the irreparable harm the BDP is imagining. The BDP has managed to rise above serious political storms and continues to do so. The split that occurred in 2010 resulting in the founding of the BMD comes to mind amongst others. Apart from rising above these political storms, the party has won every election to date. In the build up to last year’s election, it was a topical issue that massive defections could take place. Yet, the BDP never thought of amending the Constitution to deal with the anticipated defections. I argue without flinching therefore that the current conversation of instability is premised on the fear of the unknown. It is possible that a bigger picture beyond this conversation and that which we are not told, could be on the offing. From where I stand, the instability argument as proffered by the BDP is as flat as a deflated tyre. It is put mildly, false, mischievous, made in bad faith and to some extent probably fatal.
I am struggling to find logic and reasoning for the following provided I got the message from the debates correctly. On one hand, the Bill says when an MP is resigning from the party that facilitated his/her election, a bye election must be held. On the other, when such MP has been expelled by that party, he/she remains an MP with no by election. It should follow from the foregoing that whatever the outcomes of expulsion or resignation, the MP is no longer part of his/her former party and therefore, it is desirable that his/her electorate should be given an opportunity to re-elect or find another candidate. Why can’t the expelled MP also face a by election because he/she would have ceased to be a member of a political party in parliament? My apologies once more if I got the message from the debates wrongly.
Flowing from the above, I remain convinced that BDP arguments motivating the floor crossing Bill are as flat as a deflated tyre. The stability issue as used as a rallying point by the President and his party is self-serving to achieve a political goal. Nothing suggests remotely or otherwise that the BDP is threatened by the collapse of its majority in parliament. Even if it were so, relevant Constitutional remedies would be set in motion to constitute a new parliament. If this majority collapsed, the sky wouldn’t come crumbling on Botswana. The BDP is a political party like others and should take responsibility of ensuring that it keeps its house in order. There is no credible information that Batswana were consulted through a credible process whose results comprehensively endorsed the stopping of floor crossing. It is disingenuous of the BDP to suggest the consultation of Ntlo ya Dikgosi (House of Chiefs) on the amendment represents the overall views of Batswana. Like one MP said, there is no evidence that Chiefs have engaged their subjects and what the outcomes are. There is no urgency in passing the Bill at the speed of light as the BDP frantically desires that to be the case. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
As always, let us adhere to Covid-19 protocols. It is our civic duty to do so.