Tensions Loom Over Suspension Of Party Congresses

  • There are fears that conflicts over ‘illegitimate’ leadership may arise
  • Political parties say COVID-19 justifies deferring congresses


Internal party squabbles are likely to emerge from widespread use of COVID-19 and the lockdowns that accompany the pandemic for postponement of party congresses across the political divide, The Botswana Gazette has established.

It is feared that the situation could lead to challenges of legitimacy because existing office bearers will extend their terms without the authority of elective congresses, which are the supreme forums for conferring legitimacy on leaders for defined tenures.

Lawyer Dick Bayford says the postponement may jeopardise internal democratic processes. “Inner party democracy requires that the will of the people be revisited periodically and the period that is set for a particular party leadership to be running the affairs of a political organisation be limited in terms of its constitution,” Bayford, who is also an opposition activist, said.

“In other words, the lifespan of a given leadership will be extended without the involvement of the people. We do not know for how long the pandemic will be with us, so we run a risk whereby organisations will be run by decree, so to speak, because there would not have been the involvement of the voice of the people in choosing their leaders.”

But political parties say postponement is justified in light of COVID-19 protocols that disallow mass gatherings. The Secretary General of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, Mpho Balopi, has told this publication that it is not only political parties that have suspended gatherings but all sectors of society. “All organisations or institutions have suspended their gatherings,” Balopi emphasised. “While we recognise that internal democratic processes are vital, we equally admit that the pandemic is alive, hence the need to adhere to set protocols.”

In his view, it would be unreasonable for anyone to ignore the reality of COVID-19, its implications on gatherings and consequently the need to postpone gatherings. “Members of the BDP are fully aware that the party was looking forward to the party congresses and the fact that the Central Committee, which is led by the President, is in control until such time that convening a congress comes,” Balopi pointed out.

This view is also held by the spokesman of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, Moeti Mohwasa, who says COVID-19 protocols proscribe congresses. “We respect democratic processes but we are faced with a pandemic that has already claimed multitudes of lives,” Mohwasa told The Gazette. “And that, in our view, is justification enough to postpone.”

The atmosphere is reported to be tense at both parties over this issue because some of their members were itching for change in certain leadership positions. But with postponement of their congresses a reality, it is feared that some of these ‘agitators’ may resort to mounting litigation to challenge certain unpopular decisions made by ‘illegitimate’ structures.