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UDC has failed Batswana!

Publishing Date : 25 September, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

In Africa, it is almost unheard of for an opposition political party or coalition of opposition political parties to attain more than thirty percent of the popular vote.

Yet, in the 2014 general elections, while the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) attained 30% and 20.4% of the popular vote respectively, the ruling BDP garnered 46.7% of the popular vote. In terms of parliamentary seats, from a total voter turnout of 84.75%, while UDC and BCP attained 17 seats and 3 seats respectively, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 37 seats, suffering an attrition of 8 seats.

The BCP suffered a decline of 1 parliamentary seat. Though it was the first time the UDC contested the general elections, its contracting parties, the Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) collectively enjoyed an upsurge of 11 parliamentary seats. In 2014, therefore, the UDC and the BCP managed to attain a joint 50.4% of the popular vote and a joint 20 out of a total of 57 parliamentary seats.  

Such performance was, by all standards, exceptional, especially in a country where there is no funding of political parties; where the public media’s coverage is biased in favor of the ruling party; and where the state president uses state resources, including helicopters, during electoral campaigns and rallies. In 2009 the picture was not that rosy for the opposition. the BDP had attained a popular vote of 53.26 % compared to the BNF and BCP’s 21.94% and 19.15% respectively. In terms of parliamentary seats, while the BDP had won 45 seats, the BNF and BCP had won only 6 seats and 4 seats respectively.

Clearly, there is a reason why the opposition enjoyed such an upsurge of votes in 2014. In the main, the upsurge resulted from the votes of thousands of public sector employees who were dissatisfied not only by the way they were treated by government during the 2011 public sector strike, but also by the unfavorable terms and conditions of employment generally. Undoubtedly, the opposition was also voted by many youths who, despite several government’s so-called youth empowerment programmes (e.g. Young Farmers Fund, Youth Development Fund and Youth Employment Scheme), remained unemployed.

The opposition’s vote was also positively influenced by the voices of the media and civil society who, while projecting the failures of the BDP, presented the opposition as the answer to the many problems that Batswana suffered at the hands of the BDP under former president Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s reign. The BDP’s near loss of power in 2014 was also at the hands of its own -the BDP members who were dissatisfied by the way the BDP was running its affairs but had remained in the BDP when some defected and formed and/or joined the BMD.

With the BDP’s loss of the popular vote in 2014, some, especially in the opposition expected that the UDC will win the 2019 general elections. Then, such expectation or hope appeared plausible. The question is: is the expectation or hope still plausible today with about one year before the general elections?

After the 2014 general elections, rather than building on its gains the opposition experienced an erosion of its support base because of, inter alia, the conflicts within the BMD which resulted in its split in 2017, resulting in the birth of the Alliance for Progressives (AP). Truth be told. Prior to the split, the UDC failed to intervene decisively, claiming, through its leader, Honorable Advocate Duma Boko, that since the BMD is an independent entity it can not intervene in its affairs.

In my view, by so doing, the UDC failed Batswana for if it had intervened in the BMD debacle, a split, which has inarguably weakened the UDC, could have been avoided. Even after the AP split, the BMD has known no peace, with the result that the party’s leadership suspended almost its entire Youth League leadership after it publicly called for the resignation and/or expulsion of party president, Advocate Sidney Pilane, for his failure to lead the party.

Still, the UDC leadership folded its arms and did not intervene in the Youth League matter which resulted in further turbulence within the BMD, and by extension the UDC.   Following the admission of the BCP into the UDC, which the BMD and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) dispute, arguing that the current constitution recognizes only the BNF, BMD and BPP as the UDC’s contracting parties, there has been conflict between the BMD and BCP over the positions of UDC Vice President, among other things.  

Rather than dealing with the dispute decidedly, the UDC has been reticent, with some blaming the UDC’s reticence on Honorable Advocate Boko’s friendly relationship with the BCP leader, Dumelang Saleshando. This further caused divisions within the UDC. The divisions were exacerbated when Honorable Advocate Boko with Saleshando submitted, to the exclusion of Advocate Pilane and BPP president, Motlatsi Molapisi, the new UDC constitution for registration with the Registrar of Societies, something which the BMD and BPP opposed and wrote to the Registrar disowning the constitution.

It is common knowledge that the Registrar has since declined to register the constitution giving as one of the reasons for his declination the fact that the UDC is not an entity capable of registration under the Societies Act. This, even to a lay person, is a serious decision since it has implications on whether or not the UDC can, in its current form, lawfully contest elections in 2019. In fact, some have even opined that the BDP could approach the courts and seek to invalidate the election of all Members of Parliament (MPs) and Councilors who were elected under the UDC ticket in 2014.

Therefore, many thought that the UDC would, naturally, approach the courts to apply for a review of the Registrar’s decision. But, the UDC has to date, about two months after the decision was taken, not acted as such, breeding uncertainty among its members. There is another matter that shows the UDC’s failure to act. There has been disputes regarding constituency allocations to the contracting parties.

Some, especially in the BNF and BCP, are arguing that since the BMD was allocated constituencies on the basis of its strength before the AP split, now that its strength has been eroded following the split some of the constituencies allocated to it should be returned for reallocation. This matter is so serious that, at its conference in July this year, the BNF resolved that if the issue is not resolved the BNF should take the constituencies allocated to the BMD which it is entitled to by virtue of its 2014 electoral performance.

The situation in the UDC is so dire that at their July conferences, the BNF and the BCP resolved that if the conflicts within the UDC would not be resolved by mid-August, the BNF and the BCP should enter into a bilateral cooperation for the 2019 general elections. Today, it is mid-September, and the situation in the UDC is as bad as ever, if not worse, but nothing has been done to implement the conference resolution despite the fact that only one year remains before the 2019 general elections.

There has also been talk that the UDC or the BNF and BCP have taken a decision to expel Advocate Pilane from the UDC and nothing has happened in that regard. These debacles, which are mainly caused by the BMD, have caused the UDC to lose focus of agitating for its 2014 manifesto. Consequently, few Batswana know what the UDC stands for because its MPs have not done enough in terms of moving motions and asking questions in Parliament in line with the manifesto.

Some have even opined that the way the UDC leadership has been quite regarding national issues may make one think that they are compromised, e.g. through involvement in corruption, and fear being exposed should they comment on such matters. In its online edition of 17th September 2018, the Sunday Standard, under its column, The Watchdog, described the UDC best. It said “When it comes to lethargy, ineptitude and disorderliness, leaders of the UDC can proudly congratulate themselves for achieving what none us of thought possible only a few years back …”

Then writer continued to say “…The party, or whatever it is called, is no longer able to convene meetings. Even worse, it is no longer able to implement its own decisions. Umbrella for Democratic Change leaders do not speak with confidence on any national issues…” I agree.
In the meantime, the ascension of His Excellency the President, Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, to the presidency has given new life to the BDP, further reducing the UDC’s chances of attaining state power in 2019.

Though the Masisi factor will no doubt contribute to the BDP’s victory in 2019, UDC’s loss will mainly be because of its own failures and the extent to which it has failed Batswana. Its loss will be as a result of several own goals. The UDC has even failed to perform one simple task-releasing the report on the circumstances surrounding the late Gomolemo Motswaledi’s death in a car accident. It is as a result of these failures, many of which are elementary, that the UDC has lost a significant portion of its support base. One only needs to read newspapers and listen to the radio to reach that conclusion.

The private media, trade unions, including the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), and civil society are no longer as anti-BDP and pro-UDC. On the contrary, many are praising H.E Masisi for returning their Botswana to them and would, in all likelihood, vote for the BDP in 2019. 



Do you think the courts will help put the UDC, BMD impasse within reasonable time ahead of the 2019 General Election?