In 1881 Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch-an Austrian-Jewish physician best known as the personal physician of the emperor Maximilian of Mexico, invented the sphygmomanometer.
Its work was to monitor a person’s blood pressure. This week as the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Bulela Ditswe claimed more victims at parliamentary and council levels it is easy to understand why the sphygmomanometer becomes an instrument of choice for most losers. Especially that many were claiming that they have been cheated and not that the voters have expressed their opinion through the ballot box. Stress can cause one’s blood pressure to rise hence the need for a sphygmomanometer. There is no doubt that the machine is in big demand this week as many BDP big shots try to monitor their blood pressure while licking their wounds. On Monday a day after most of the weekend results were out the mood in parliament was sombre as many Members of Parliament were still trying to come to terms with the reality of years of political wilderness.
The BDP second set of primary elections, south of Dibete claimed five casualties from parliament, bringing the total to 13 MPs who will not participate in the forthcoming general election. As parliament business was ongoing on Monday a number of MPs who were involved in the primary were holding mini-conferences. And there was no doubt the major topic was trying to find reasons for their defeat.
Minister of Local Government Peter Siele who lost the Mmathethe/Molapowabojang constituency to Dr Alfred Madigele was chatting to Mokgweetsi Masisi. Siele was more animated in the conversation. Two rows back Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri was having a mini-conference of his with Mmoloki Raletobana who was beaten in the Gabane/Mankgodi seat by Lesedi Mmusi. Again Raletobana was the more animated one as Frank Ramsden (who lost in Maun East) to the political novice Kostantinos Maerkus kept on chipping in. Vice president Ponatshego Kedikilwe’s response to the state of the nation address was not that important to the MPs, as they were busy licking wounds. Besides Kedikilwe was just reiterating what Khama said on November 4-the “good things” that the government is doing for the nation.
“BDP has delivered three dams… Delivered diamonds migration from London to Gaborone. A milestone of noble note,” Kedikilwe was saying in his response and this is not stuff you would listen to if you had just lost a BDP election. Some of the MPs who lost on Saturday were nowhere to be seen in Parliament, presumably in ICU in private hospitals. Those who were brave enough and had accepted their fate came late. One MP who lost over the weekend claimed that the results are pre-determined at Tsholetsa House. “This is systematic cheating,” he said. As Thucydides (author of The History of the Peloponnesian War) puts it “In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.” BDP lawyer and chairman of the electoral board Parks Tafa suggests that the party ought to put a structure and programme in place to help candidates who lost with counseling. “There is so much that they invest in elections, they need emotional counseling.” Indeed politicians in Botswana invest a lot in trying to win elections. In a political system that does not allow political party funding politicians have to dig deep into their pockets to fund their campaigns. They also invest their time.
And as incumbents get dethroned they do not only lose the ballot but also a source of income. According to the 2008 National Assembly (Salaries and Allowances) Amendment Act, MPs get an annual salary of P182, 676 (P15, 223 per month). They also get sitting allowance (P320.65 per day), transport allowance and a constituency allowance. The latter differ according to the size of the constituency. For instance MP Rayner Makosha who lost in Nata/Gweta was one of the MPs getting a bigger share of the constituency allowance at P88, 452 per annum (P7371 per month). Only ten MPs: for Okavango, Ngami, Ghanzi North and South, Kgalagadi North and South and Ngwaketsi West fell under this category.
As for ministers John Seakgosing and Peter Siele Who lost over the weekend it means they are kissing the P2899, 368 annual salaries they are getting goodbye. But for the ministers they lose on a number of allowances as stipulated in the President, the Vice President, ministers, speaker, assistant ministers, deputy speaker and leader of the opposition Functions, Pay and Privileges book otherwise known as the Green Book. Ministers also get constituency, hospitality and sitting allowances. Of course blood pressures will be of major concern. What with voters who vote just for the sake of voting? Take for instance unemployed brothers-Olebogeng Ntsimako and Oteng Ntsimako who were voting in Moshupa. Both voted for Masisi and when asked why Olebogeng said, “Just because he is in government. Besides I don’t know Bobby.”
It was a bad line on a very important day-a day that will have the victor of the primaries carry or dash the hopes of the populace for the next five years, beginning 2014 should he win the general election. Both of them were not sure what Masisi has achieved in the past five years. His elder brother Oteng also voted for Masisi just because he knows him. “I think he will do something for me,” said the 27-year old unemployed. However, they were unanimous about the kind of developments they want in the village, such as a hospital. Or one other voter who did not want to be named who says he voted for Masisi’s challenger Bobby Tlhwabiwe just because they used to play football together. In a “normal” democracy voters are supposed to dictate their destinies. But in Botswana voters become masters only on voting day and a day later the person who won the election owns them. They even call him/her “mong wame.” Perhaps that is why many a politician in the country is self-serving. While others only pursue the interests of their political parties-through toeing the party line, and forgetting the interests of the electorate.
One young lady voting at Bakgatla Primary School had preferred a new political leader in Moshupa. “Even if Masisi was contesting against a tree I would still vote for that tree.” She argued that Masisi has failed to address problems facing the village such as poverty and unemployment. The backyard gardens that the minister has popularised in the area are failing according to her because beneficiaries are now left with huge water bills, which they cannot afford to pay. “As we speak the nearest hospital is in Kanye or Thamaga,” she noted. Her philosophy is simple-a leader needs to deliver or otherwise be dismissed at the ballot. “If Tlhabiwe wins and fails to deliver in the next five years then I will vote for someone else,” she added. But as things turned out Masisi won the primary elections by 2141 to Tlhabiwe’s 923.
Two former US presidents had this to say about elections: “A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user,” said Theodore Roosevelt while Abraham Lincoln noted, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”