‘the BDP does not win elections, the opposition loses them.’
During the course of this week, I looked at the other side of suggestions that unless President Mokgweetsi Masisi changes course, he could become the first President in Botswana political history to serve only one term.
I came to the conclusion that contrary to it, there are possibilities that he could pull another victory in the 2024 general election. Botswana political history tells us that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has in recent times prevailed in the last two general elections when it was up for the taking. But not because it was the best performing political party with compelling appeal to the electorate but chiefly because opposition parties were pitifully fragmented right down the middle as they currently are. Someone opined that ‘the BDP doesn’t win elections, the opposition loses them.’ This is a compelling statement that is not only correct in my view but difficult if not impossible to ignore.
There are a few prerequisites the President has to fulfil in order to become the BDP presidential candidate which, if he doesn’t, could disqualify him from contesting the next general. He will have to win the contest of becoming the BDP presidential elections due in an election year. Something is reportedly brewing in the BDP wherein there are voices of disgruntlement against the President on many fronts. The voices are saying the President has failed to provide leadership in the party and government. Predictably, some of the voices should be some MPs who feel the President’s ‘roadmap’ in both government and the party is not conducive to their re-election in 2024 given the subsiding mood of goodwill the President received in 2019. There are complaints from these MPs that they are forced to defend party positions in parliament while they would not have been appraised about them before reaching parliament. These MPs’ actions have been brutally exposed by live parliamentary proceedings whereupon their voters are busy ticking the boxes whether for good or for worse. Other voices reportedly, are from those who equally feel the President has lost course and is therefore leading the party astray. Some of these would be those who religiously campaigned for him but are now left and forgotten in political wilderness. Predictably, they have an axe to grind with him. Needless to mention, this is a common political ball thrown around in the body politic of political parties.
The disgruntled voices are singing a song whose theme is to dethrone the Vice President from his position of party Chairman. This will be followed by dethroning the President himself in the 2024 party congress in which the BDP Constitution demands that during an election year, the party must elect a President who will be its presidential candidate as alluded to above. Should the disgruntled voices succeed in removing the President before the 2024 general election, the BDP would be contesting that election with a new presidential candidate. Is this realistically possible? The following should attempt to answer the question.
In 2017, the BDP held its elective congress in Tonota where the then Minister Nonofo Molefhi was challenging Masisi for the position of BDP Chairman. This is the congress in which the Masisi’s camp was dubbed the Dubai Camp where all the goodies and freebies probably never witnessed at the previous party congresses were so witnessed. Members of this faction were feted on the finer things in life including the free flow of money splashed from a lady’s bag. The Banonofhi or Marakanelo camp of Rre Molefhi was reportedly starving where some of his members defected to Camp Dubai. The President and his faction swept the stakes with the opposing faction failing to make it to the party’s other positions on the Central Committee. I stand corrected. It must be remembered that the President uses and takes advantage of his incumbency as the Head of State and the President of the BDP in all manner of things. Incumbency therefore becomes very useful.
One does not need to go too far back in the political history of the BDP. In 2019, Mma Venson-Moitoi tried to dethrone Masisi from the BDP prsidency in the controversial Kang congress which was preceeded by a lot of shenanigans. When Mma Venson-Moitoi made her intentions known that she sought to challenge the President, she was immediately removed from her ministerial position. Mma Venson Moitoi would later withdraw from the contest at the eleventh hour, sending DIS Director General to deliver the withdrawal letter. Before this, the way to Kang was characterised by a dog-eat-dog kind of situation between Masisi and Moitoi. Just like how he triumphed at the Tonota and Kang congresses, the Masisi is likely to perfect his tactics to annihilate the voices of disgruntlement said to be emerging to destabilise and to ultimately remove him from the throne. On these two points therefore, the President should prevail to be the BDP’s presidential candidate in 2024. Why would he be desirous of changing tactics which won him the game under similar circumstances and situations? They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The reasonable thing would be to perfect it for even better results.
Having cleared the party hurdle by stamping his authority, the next would be for him to win the 2024 general election in order to serve his second and final term. This is where it becomes very interesting in more ways than one. But again, the President was in a similar situation in 2019 where the BDP looked dead and buried due to the political and socio-economic circumstances of the country. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) looked to be matching the BDP pound for pound in terms of campaign resources. This brought fear in the BDP because in the political history of Botswana, no Opposition formation had ever been so well resourced like the UDC was. The BDP government employed nefarious means to destabilise the UDC by peddling tax issues around its President; grounding his aircraft and temporarily withholding its manifesto for launching at the Maun rally amongst others. I cannot forget the UDC last mammoth rally in its President’s constituency and the presidential television debate. Many people were shocked by the result of the UDC President losing to the incumbent MP. The UDC believed then, as it still does that the BDP had rigged the election. Assuming without conceding that the BDP indeed rigged them, what would stop it from doing the same in 2024? Nothing suggests this cannot be repeated if it previously delivered the goods given the high stakes in the political chess game.
The President holds all the levers of power which he can still use for purposes of political expediency. Institutions such as DIS are still under the direction and influence of the President by virtue of the fact that it reports directly to him. Forget about the recently appointed DIS Committee which is all BDP due to the withdrawal of the Opposition from it. It is just a PR exercise meant to give it some legitimacy in the public eye. The President calls all the shots at DIS as his predecessors. This proposition could partly or in whole be explained by the rejection of the Opposition motion on reforming both the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Act. A view has been expressed to the effect that by preferring the current status of the IEC and the Electoral Act to remain as is, it serves the BDP in more ways than one to its advantage. If this view is correct, the President would surely use it to prevail in 2024.
With the Opposition still pitifully entrenched in self-pitying and labouring on the election rigging narrative, the BDP and by extension the President, are more than happy with the status quo. By now, one would have expected the Opposition to be too far in terms of practical unity in its ranks. Toxic political statements from all and sundry in that stable give credence to the BDP’s slogan that ‘There is still no alternative.’ While the Opposition is doing fairly okay in parliament in my view, the same cannot be said about the same outside. The recent SRC elections at the University of Botswana where one expected the Opposition student formations to work together in the spirit of Moono, told a different story. By its own admission, Opposition parties have conceded that without unity in its ranks, dethroning the BDP will be as elusive as fighting against corruption.
Given the above, it is still highly likely that whatever internal and external challenges the President could face, he still holds the aces to serve the second term. His biggest and potent ace is that of incumbency. While I accept that an incumbent can still be beaten, history remains my yardstick. He has faced similar challenges in the past where he has prevailed. But I still hold the view that he must do more to ensure that he serves the second term. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always.
Judge for Yourself!