It all started with a complaint by Whyte Marobela, a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politician who had lost primary election recently ahead of a high-stake by-election in Francistown West.
His progressive views about BDP’s failure to address an internal party matter escalated into a full-blown court battle where Justice Tshepo Motswagole’s judgement came as the straw that almost broke the BDP political back. To say BDP was shocked by Motswagole’s judgement would be an understatement. BDP is still incensed that a court has barred its preferred candidate from contesting an election. This explains its decision to appeal Motswagole judgement. Knob-kneed Ignitius Moswaane, the man accused of buying votes in Francistown West is, by any account, a pawn in this BDP game of triumph. A BDP internal matter was remarkably being discussed publicly, in courtrooms, alleys, in kombis hundreds of kilometres away from the alleged crime scene.
With Moswaane out of the picture, opposition politicians and independents were rubbing their hands in glee hoping for a bite at the political cherry. Historians were already beginning to write chapters and labelling Marobela a hero, saying that he has achieved what the opposition has failed to do in four decades – virtually wiping the BDP out of the political scene in a bye-election. Even Moswaane’s last minute gasp before Justice David Newman, Elijah Legwaila and Isaac Lesetedi of the Court of Appeal seemed unlikely to succeed. How wrong were historians and political observers! It only took an invisible hand of acting President, Ponatshego Kedikilwe to actually rekindle Moswaane’s hopes. Having been “satisfied” himself that the decision was, in fact, “in the public interest,” Kedikilwe – a BDP political dinosaur - issued a proclamation 48 hours before the polls that the bye-election in Francistown West be postponed to end of January 2014, nine months before the general election.
Ordinarily, the proclamation resonates well with many within the BDP, but proponents of liberal democracy cried foul that the executive was wobbling like a drunk in trying to strike a balance between protecting the interest of a party that brought it into power and satisfying interests of seemingly disenfranchised BDP voters in Francistown West. An affidavit before a panel of three judges - Justice Sigh Walia, Bengbame Sechele and Leatile Dambe - last Friday night, exposes Kedikilwe’s motives to postpone the election date and satisfy both himself and the party he leads. A large number of voters in Francistown West constituency were on the brink of disenfranchisement, so claims Kedikilwe.
As Botswana Congress Party (BCP) lawyer, Dutch Leburu and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) lawyer Duma Boko, would put it, Kedikilwe does not bother to verify his claim. To youthful Leburu and Boko, Kedikilwe had abused his powers. As BDP vice president, he had become too emotional and interfered in the judicial process just to save his political party. The courts differed with Boko and Leburu and as Walia put it, there is no evidence to suggest that the President made the decision to frustrate court action or benefit the BDP. There is ample evidence that BDP decision to postpone Francistown West polls was borne out of politics than principle. The BDP under Khama has become disturbingly disingenuous in its dispensation of power.
The presidency under the BDP has not been sincere when dealing with opposition parties and consistent in dispensing power. Past presidents have not postponed election dates on account that another candidate was prevented from contesting by the Independent Electoral Commission. A petition filed on October 7, 1999 by Botswana National Front (BNF) that a decision by Returning Officer in the South East Constituency to disqualify Itumeleng Fight was unlawful, was, sadly dismissed by Justice Munalula Lisimba. The returning officer had refused to register Fight as a parliamentary candidate for the constituency. Where was Section 46 (1) of the Electoral Act or niceties about public interest? In fact BNF interest, it appears, did not constitute public interest under the BDP. The BDP leadership has completely given up on protecting the sanctity of courts.
If history is a guide, Khama should have postponed the Letlhakeng West bye-election in March 2013 when the Independent Electoral Commission disqualified BCP candidate, Thuto Thuto who did not qualify in the run–up to election to allow the party to choose a candidate who meets the requirements of the Electoral Act. Again the BDP leadership did not express concern that a sizeable number of voters in Letlhakeng West would be disenfranchised if another party was not represented.
Of course this is an internal party matter, but BDP minimalist approach to democracy does not help improve its standing. Under the BDP constitution, the party president is authoritarian and decides alone, this attitude is sadly reflected in his dispensation of power as state president.