The system is the source of inner party electoral fraud
Probe instituted after Magang put Bulela Ditswe under microscope
Academic warns of pitfalls in the system
BDP reviews national and internal elections performance regularly – Kentse
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has reportedly started a preliminary investigation on its controversial internal primary election system, popularly known as Bulela Ditswe.
Introduced more than 10 years ago, Bulela Ditswe has caused disharmony in the party and of recent it has been a subject of spirited debate on social media, especially led by prominent party activist and former National Youth Executive Committee (NYEC) chairperson Lesang Magang. Some BDP insiders claim that it was after Magang made the right noise that the party leadership started this probe on Bulela Ditswe.
This probe is allegedly led by Secretary of the Strategy Sub Committee of the Central Committee. Although the BDP Communications Sub Committee chairperson Kagelelo Kentse denied that Bulela Ditswe is under probe he explained that the Party undertakes the review of both national and internal elections performance regularly.
“The basis for doing that is a yearning for continuous improvement and enrichment of internal party democracy. There is no probe on Bulela Ditswe, what is happening is normal and all matters of the party are sanctioned by the Central Committee,” Kentse explained.
He added that this review is an operational decision that does not need to be endorsed by the national congress, which is the highest decision body of the party. When asked to state the date of the elective congress, he said the Central Committee would advice once the COVID-19 situation allows.
“The BDP congress is a huge gathering.”
The current Central Committee was elected in Tonota in 2017. They extended their own tenure in 2019 on the basis of that it was a national election year.
“That tenure elapsed this past July. There has been no known decision and announcement as to whether they have now increased their tenure again and if they have for how long. All party Sub Committees are also inadvertently expired. So the question is – where is the legitimacy of all these structure coming from?” wondered a BDP insider.
In June this year Magang wrote that Bulela Ditswe needs a rest and rebuild. “In my view there are a number of fundamental flaws with Bulela Ditswe, which we have been carrying along from as far back as 2008. And in my considered observation if we do not urgently get a team to start review of ‘risks and mitigations’ of our process to be ready for 2023, we would have really done an injustice to ourselves,” argued Magang, who has made his intention to be the Secretary General known.
He added that the party needs “to start the process to proactively pursue unadulterated fairness with our democratic system”.
“I believe a fair Bulela Ditswe system would actually have the outcome of availing more women and youth candidates than ever before. We must ask ourselves why our veteran women just shy away from even running. Our strongest voting block has been playing a ‘supporting’ role to elder males for years and we have normalised it as ok. I say no.” He said that this is a very small yet fundamental reason why long serving BDP members running as mekoko [independent candidates] and splitting their votes, warning that in 2024 the BDP cannot afford this.
He said: “Concurrently at national level the appropriate Sub Committee or a Select Committee of seasoned and sober minded democrats should be convened to do a preliminary desktop review of Bulela Ditswe and proffer advice on a more structured process of review”.
A University of Botswana political scientist Keaoleboga Dipogiso feels Bulela Ditswe epitomises true tenets of pure and direct democracy for representative purposes, particularly inner party democracy. Dipogiso said this is unlike the former system they used where a clique of people selected on behalf of the larger masses to determine who represents the party.
“The Bulela Ditswe introduced an opportunity for the masses to select directly their representatives. This is a demand for democracy, it calls for ownership of representatives by the masses, not some sort imposition from above,” he said.
However, Dipogiso added that there some pimples here and there that need to be addressed.
He reasoned that the idea of vetting opens ground for abuse, especially when it is used for ulterior motives. “It may distort the ends of democracy if it suffices that certain political considerations of those in the vetting committee are used to determine suitability or otherwise of contestants. The main equalising aspect is authenticity of membership, and commitment to the party, for example may be merely a subjective matter.”
He said that this is a new system, only a little above 10 years and it has caused problems for the party as it was placed to test. “There has been evidence of inner party electoral fraud, some of which led to defection of party stalwarts whilst some ended in the courts,” he said. “One must also know that it is in the very nature of politics that certain institutions may disrupt interests, especially where conventional beneficiaries lose their grip of such institutions.”
As to whether it will breed factionalism, his answer is that BDP is a party defined by factionalism, which has occasionally led to splits in the party. Central to such splits has been the management of elections, elections aftermaths and incumbency of certain individuals.
“Yet again the BDP has a history of being resilient to consequences of factionalism, as they have used resources and their incumbency to balance what could breed damning crisis.” For example, he said, the BDP has deployed party cadres that lost elections to foreign missions, and other public service positions.
“We cannot affirm whether the impending factional divide will have more serious implications on the stability of the party. I think also the terrain, or the political process, encompassing institutions, opponents particularly the absence of meaningful competition from opposition also matter in terms of building BDP resilience to factional feuds and explains their triumphant position in every election,” he said.