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No leader of opposition until 2014?

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    When Parliament is dissolved next year just before the 2014 general elections, it will have been without a leader of the opposition for at least a year.

    The opposition parties’ hope to have a leader in parliament faded last weekend after the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won the Letlhakeng West parliamentary bye-election. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) candidate, Filbert Nagafela, was favoured to win the election, but the Botswana Democratic Party candidate, Ngaka Ngaka won it by a 340-vote margin.

    The leader of the opposition seat that was occupied by the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) president and MP for Gaborone Central, Dumelang Saleshando, was declared vacant in December 2012 after the number of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) coalition members of parliament equalled that on the BCP. The leader of the opposition position is a title traditionally held by the leader of the largest opposition party in the house; it is usually regarded as the voice of the united opposition.

    Commenting on the vacancy, the BCP’s Information and Publicity Secretary, Taolo Lucas, said currently as far as parliamentary procedure and standing orders are concerned, the leaders of the different opposition parties in Parliament are accorded equal time to discuss issues on behalf of their political parties. “What happens now is that the leaders of all the opposition parties in parliament are the alternative voices to the government voice in Parliament.

    “What created this situation was the tie (between the BCP MPs and the UDC MPS). We must remember that the MP for Tswapong North, Prince Maele’s motion made it difficult to compromise; the motion declared that because the number of opposition parties’ members in parliament had tied, the leader of the opposition seat should be declared vacant.

    “To some extent the lack of a single leader of opposition in parliament holds the opposition parties back,” he confessed. But the MP for Francistown West, who is also secretary general of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Wynter Mmolotsi, said their priority was not the election of the leader of opposition, but to find ways to win the 2014 general elections.

    “The leader of the opposition seat is a short term dream and it can only work in a normal democracy; but in our democracy, which is a bit abnormal nowadays with the current administration, the leader of the opposition is useless because he has no power; he cannot change anything, it is more like he reports to the President because he is being controlled by the Office of the President. The leader of the opposition position cannot add any value,” he said dismissively.However the University of Botswana’s professor of political science, Professor Zibani Maundeni, said the opposition parties must swallow their pride and somehow find a way to elect a leader.

    “The leader of the opposition position is enshrined in Parliament’s Standing Orders. The opposition parties must produce a leader; the lack of one undermines the country’s democracy. Parliament must be balanced; otherwise we will only hear one side of the story. There must be the side of the story from the leader of the house – from the ruling party- and the side from the leader of the opposition, representing the opposition parties,” he said.

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