/ 28 March 2011

Opposition unites to challenge ruling party

Botswana’s main opposition parties look likely to sign a memorandum of understanding that will pave the way for opposition unity in an effort to challenge President Ian Khama’s ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has been in power for 45 years.

The talks are being led by the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), a breakaway party formed last year by disgruntled senior BDP leaders, and will involve leaders from the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) and the Botswana National Front (BNF).

Sidney Pilane, BMD spokesperson and former adviser to ex-president Festus Mogae, said: “The country is ripe for change and the agenda of unity is very high among the ­opposition. The priority that we all have is to take power in 2014 and … that interest will be put ahead of individual party ambitions.”

In the general elections of October 2009 the opposition won 13 of the 57 seats in Parliament. Unity talks between opposition parties also took place in 2006 and 2009 but broke down because of “differences in what model to use”, said Lebang Mpokotwane, convener of the talks.

He said: “I’m a neutral outsider with no political party affiliation. I hope this time round there will be no problems and that the parties will be ready to avoid a repeat of past problems.”

The BMD, with six seats in Parliament, enjoys widespread support among Botswana’s youth, which makes up 57% of voters, according to the electoral commission.

Members of the BCP and BNF are also said to be “overwhelmingly” in favour of opposition cooperation. Critics argue, however, that the BMD is not “tried and tested” because it has yet to test its mettle against the BDP in an election.

“The goodwill we enjoy in the country is so strong and we could go it alone, but we are not prepared to take any risks when there are so many positives from cooperating as the opposition,” Pilane said.

He was expecting further defections of senior BDP leaders because many politicians were “watching closely” and were sympathetic to their cause, he said.