The notion that politics is a game of numbers continues to dominate the thinking of those in the opposition bloc ahead of the Ralekgetho ward bye-election slated for this Saturday in the Moshupa-Manyana constituency.
From the comfort of their air-conditioned offices far away in Gaborone and perhaps nearby Moshupa, and indeed through their engaging political rhetoric on social media, followers of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) are adding numbers and concluding that the bye-election is already in their pocket.
Flashback 2014 – the UDC, represented by Gaokgakala Masope amasses 218 of the 799 votes that were cast in that ward; the Botswana Congress Party’s (BCP) Johnson Monare - pushed and powered then by their rabble-rouser and motor-mouth Marcos Malwetse - outperformed themselves, garnering 270 votes, a mere 21 ballots shy of the victorious Calvin Rakala of the BDP, who was taken to the Southern District Council by 291 voters.
Now that the UDC and the BCP have entered into a marriage of convenience that evidently is still out of community of property, the followers of the two parties are on their electronic gadgets – they are adding these numbers and are already chatting their way to victory come Saturday night.
Yet a painstaking walk through the sandy thickets and bushes of the settlements there reveal an incongruent narrative. The people there care less about numbers. They seem lost when you talk of political party names, especially UDC and Alliance for Progressives (AP). All they easily talk about is Domi, Malwetse, Matsorotsoro and Monare. The latter three names, Mothusiemang Marcos Malwetse, Omphile Matsorotsoro Motlhajwe and Johnson Mokganedi Monare, are the contesting figures in the ward council elections.
Talk of UDC or AP enlists confusion on many. Botswana Guardian’s sister publication, The Midweek Sun, this past weekend staged a mock election in the council ward, and several of those given the ballot paper that had the three parties sought to know who the UDC and the AP were, and questioned the whereabouts of BNF and BCP. And of the three candidates, they did not have very flattering words for the UDC candidate, Monare.
Rather than sitting in offices and hoping that added numbers from the 2014 elections will hand them the ward, this is what the UDC cadres should be out there focusing on – rebranding their candidate who despite representing a party some may want to identify with, nonetheless find him unpopular. The people there also do not seem knowledgeable on what the UDC really entails, despite the party standing and using the name to contest in 2014. Those who have a better understanding ask if the BCP has changed names to AP. It gets worse when amidst the blue of the UDC, they also see well-branded BCP vehicles traversing the village, with drivers and activists therein clad in the lime BCP regalia.
It is not all of the voting people there who are still in the dark about why the BCP is missing on the ballot paper. Obviously the levels of comprehension differ, as in any other society, but the newspaper’s reporters who conducted the mock election and poll there had to educate those who would return the ballot paper wanting to know why there was no BCP, and in some instances, the BNF.
“I know Monare and I know Malwetse, but I do not see BCP on the paper. Anyway let me just tick the BDP box, at least it’s a party I know,” remarked one of the participants. The mock election and poll had targeted only those registered to vote on Saturday and thus it appears a lot more education is yet to be done on the ground.
Perhaps the UDC could learn a little lesson from the Rasesa ward bye election last February, where they had also used the 2014 numbers to assume a combination of BCP and UDC votes would hand them the ward. It was never to be, because it was the issues on the ground that mattered the most to people, especially the candidate, whom the Rasesa people rejected for what those speaking from air-conditioned offices may deem trivial – they said the BCP man then had debts and owed almost everyone in the village.
A similar matter may prevail with the BCP man in Ralekgetho. The people there describe Monare as arrogant and too full of himself. “We voted for him in 2009 as a BDP candidate. He was full of love and served us well when he was campaigning for our votes. After electing him, we heard nothing of him. He wouldn’t even take our calls as he had done before,” said 41-year old Basinyi Tamalo.
He adds that Monare did not even use palatable words to speak to them while a councillor. His sentiments are shared by many, among them Keineetse Rakala, who shares the demeaning words Monare has used on them whenever they needed his assistance as a councillor.
“We turned against him in the subsequent elections and we are surprised he is coming back to us expecting us to vote for him again. He will be voted by his people from Moshupa and his rich followers, not us,” Rakala said. He is the brother to the late Calvin whose death two months ago occasioned the weekend’s bye election.
Monare has however stood his ground that he was capable of still winning, saying in an interview that the people were within their right to form an opinion about any candidate. He reveals that in his days as councillor, he did differ with some people in the village because as a leader, he sometimes made decisions not everybody liked.
“There are other reasons that may work against us, not just the opinions of some people. It could also be the fact that not all people registered to vote are accessible, and some have lost their cards,” he said.
Whatever the case, it would appear that Monare and the UDC still have a lot to do on the ground to win hearts and minds, because the BDP looks set to benefit from family loyalty votes. Many in the ward said they had family voting traditions, and they had nothing to do with candidates – if it is the BDP, they are fine.
Yet some also proffered sympathy for AP’s Malwetse whom they describe as homegrown. He looks set to have more votes from his homeland of Sehibidung, and that is where the majority of votes are expected. The mock election results from our sister publication gave BDP 66 percent of the votes while UDC and AP followed with 16 and 12 percent respectively. Only 6 percent of the voters were undecided.
However, the poll only attracted 273 registered voters who participated as opposed to the 923 of 2014. But the numbers on the ground are still telling, and the UDC had better be prepared for a shock result even with their combined efforts.
This past Wednesday, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was in Ralekgetho to do duplicates for lost 2014 voter registration cards, and they had this Thursday camped in Molapowabasadi. Those from the two other polling areas of Sehibidung and Molomoojang had to go to either Ralekgetho or Molapowabasadi to do their duplicates.
Polling stations open at 0600hrs and close at 1900hrs.