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Registrar’s decision: blessing in disguise for the UDC

Publishing Date : 21 August, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

After a long wait, this week, the Registrar of Societies communicated his decision to refuse to accept the proposed amendments to the constitution of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

Contrary to many people’s expectations, the reason for the declination was not the objection submitted to the Registrar by the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana People’s Party (BPP), but that the UDC is not a political party, but a coalition of political parties. Expectedly, the Registrar’s decision has elicited mixed reactions from the public and the Opposition. While some think that the Registrar’s decision smells of political influence, others believe the Registrar is merely doing his job.

Speaking to Duma fm’s Donald Badisa Seberane on 16th August, the UDC Publicity Secretary, Moeti Mohwasa, wondered why the Registrar did not decline to register the UDC in 2014 and is only raising issues today less than a year before the general elections. Mohwasa also wondered why, in 2014, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) recognised the UDC as a political party, registering its logo and its candidates for both local and national elections if it was not a political party as the Registrar purports.

He also wondered why Parliament has, since the 2014 general elections, recognized the UDC as an Opposition political party in Parliament, recognizing its president, Advocate Honourable Duma Boko, as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and its Members of Parliament (MPs) as such. But, does the fact that the Registrar accepted the registration of the UDC in 2014 mean that when he, today, realizes that an error was committed, he should not seek to correct it? Should an administrative functionary be bound by an earlier decision even if it is wrong?

In my view, the Registrar, and indeed any government functionary, has a legal duty to correct its decision if, upon new insight, it realizes that it had erred. Even courts of law set aside decisions they earlier took in error. Other people opine that the Registrar had no business in going beyond the complaint submitted to him by the BMD and the BPP, namely the lack of agreement on the amendments by the UDC’s contracting partners.

According to them, the fact that the Registrar went beyond the complaint shows that he has a political agenda, that being to destabilize the UDC and ensure the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s victory in 2019. A government functionary whose duty is the protection of the Constitution of the country and the observance of all the laws of the land has a duty to, upon realization of an anomaly, correct it despite the fact that it has not been brought to him by any person.

Therefore, that the Registrar registered the UDC in 2014 is neither here nor there. The same applies to the fact that the IEC and Parliament have always recognised the UDC. Similarly, the fact that in declining the UDC’s amendments the Registrar acted on his own motion is neither here nor there. It does not make the decision less valid or unlawful.

In my view, considering the woes that the UDC has suffered since the 2014 general elections, largely because of the conflicts within the BMD, the Registrar’s decision may be a blessing in disguise for the UDC or the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). It would be recalled that at their July conferences the BNF and the BCP resolved to enter into a bilateral relationship for the 2019 general elections if the UDC would not have resolved its problems by mid-August this year.

At the time, I opined that the BNF and BCP had caucused on the resolutions prior to their conferences. I also opined that the BNF and BCP made the resolution knowing full well that it is unattainable so that it uses the failure to resolve the UDC debacle as an excuse for leaving the UDC. This, in my view, was a way of dumping the recalcitrant BMD and its ally the BPP. Arguably, it was also a way of opening up a door to work with the Alliance for Progressives (AP), something which would not happen for as long as the BMD and the BPP are part of the UDC.

It is in this regard that I am of the view that the Registrar’s refusal to accept the amendments to the UDC constitution is a blessing in disguise for the UDC or the BNF and BCP. The BNF and BCP’s claims of being heartbroken as a result of the decision may, therefore, not be genuine. If the reason for the Registrar’s refusal were the objections from the BMD and BPP there would be ire tractable conflict between the BNF and BCP on the one hand and the BMD and BPP on the other.

These conflicts would likely result in litigation, with winners and losers, something which would further polarize the UDC contracting partners, resulting in the inevitable collapse of the UDC possibly before the 2019 general elections. If the Registrar had accepted the amendments, the BMD and the BPP were likely going to approach the courts to review his decision, something which would result in a protracted legal battle much to the delight of the BDP which is also currently suffering internal strife because of the Khama and Masisi feud.

In my view, the Registrar’s decision gives an easy and respectable escape for the BNF and BCP. They can easily convince their members that given the time remaining before the 2019 general elections challenging the Registrar’s decision in the courts would delay their campaigns. They can also manipulate their members by claiming, falsely of course, that even if they went to the courts they are unlikely to succeed because the courts are biased in favour of the ruling BDP. Some have already suggested this by claiming that the Registrar made this decision because of political influence.  

After all, the BNF and BCP leadership already have the mandate to enter into a bilateral relationship for the 2019 general elections if the UDC problems are not resolved by mid-August, which deadline has lapsed. In any event, there are those who believe that for as long as Advocate Sydney Pilane, whom they accuse of being a BDP operative planted to destabilize the Opposition, is part of the UDC it cannot win the 2019 general elections.

It would, therefore, be easy for the BNF and BCP leadership to convince such people to leave the UDC and enter into a bilateral relationship which is after all a resolution of the parties’ respective conferences. It, however, remains to be seen how the UDC will react to the Registrar’s decision.

Already, the fact that about two days after the decision was taken there was no emergency meeting called to discuss the matter shows that it may not be that much of a concern to the UDC or at least the BNF and BCP.If the matter were indeed taken seriously by now an emergency Central Committee meeting would have been called; press releases would have been issued and legal action against the Registrar would have been threatened.      



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