The motion ordering elected representatives to relinquish their seats when crossing party floors was first presented in Parliament, 07th August, 1998, by Hon. Gladys Kokokwe, MP. Hansard records demonstrate that most legislators from both sides of the aisle were in support of the motion.
In particular, Honourable Members – Dr. Kenneth Koma, MP. and Maitshwarelo Dabutha, MP., both of whom were opposition legislators – pointed out that the motion was a long held desire of the opposition. Furthermore, they decried that the opposition had long proposed the amendment as far back as 1986, at the All Party Conference meeting in Francistown City arguing that it was not entirely original to Ho. Kokorwe, MP.
Following Hon. Kokorwe’s motion, which ultimately passed, a Law Reform Committee was established –headed by Hon. J. B. Gabaake, MP., and comprising Hon. S. M. Gabatshwane, MP., Hon. P. K. Balopi, MP., Hon. K. Kalake, MP., Hon. M. M. Robi, MP., Hon. V. Mamela, MP., Hon. O. Mfa, MP. (a mix of legislators from the ruling party and opposition parties) as well as the then Attorney General, Mr. P. T. C. Skelemani. The committee was mandated to gather Batswana’s views on the envisaged constitutional amendment. It is on record that 32 Kgotla meetings were held all across Botswana.
In all such meetings, there was overwhelming support of the desire for elected representatives to seek fresh mandate, if they should cross the partisan floor. The conclusion of the Law Reform Committee (06th August, 1999), which was founded on Batswana’s views, can be summed up as,“CROSS THE FLOOR, SEEK A NEW MANDATE.”
Parliamentary records are a useful tool in informing the view that this motion is not solely for the protection of any single political party. For instance, in 2006, Hon. G. Mokgwathi, MP., an opposition legislator, asked about the time frame in which an instruction would be given for the Office of the Attorney General to draft necessary legislation to implement the 1998/99 Law Reform Committee report, which followed the acceptance of Hon. Gladys Kokorwe, MP.’s motion.
In the same vein, Hon. A. Magama, MP., an opposition legislator, asked about the same in 2009, prior to the General Elections. It is clear, therefore, that this is not a new subject. Members of Parliament have long yearned for it, and it enjoys popular public support.
Accordingly, Hon. M.E.K. Masisi, MP., then Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, tabled the Bill in 2011. The Bill, however, was later withdrawn in order to allow further consultation. Hon. L. Mokalake, MP., then Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, tabled a similar bill that would affect councillors. Similary, it was later withdrawn to allow further consultation.
It is apparent for all to see that there’s no question about the government being under any pressure or threat. Actually, the longer we wait, the longer we delay a process that Batswana have long requested. This is a history long request that MPs. and Batswana have made and for which we may never find the perfect time – at least not in the view of everybody.
It must be highlighted that there is no intention to bar elected representatives from crossing party floors; once the law is effective, they may still do so, but they would have to seek new mandate. The Law Reform Committee is clear on Batswana’s views; as some are recorded to have said, it is dishonest and unfair to seek a vote under one banner and only to abandon such banner after successful election to a seat.
At this point, it is helpful to quote the then Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Lt. Gen. S. K. I. Khama, whose words are recorded on the Hansard of Friday, 14th August, 1998:“Recently, when I stood for election, the linkage of the party to the candidate and the people was done through the party machinery organizing the campaign. I could not have done it on my own. There were things like the use of party equipment when addressing political meetings. When you arrive at the meeting place the people greet you with party slogans. I do not have a slogan of my own. The people in the meeting were wearing party attire; uniform and badges, not my badges, not my uniform. This was an indication that the people are linking the candidate with the party of their choice and its policies. From then on we went to the nomination stage. The candidate was nominated by a political party; I was nominated by the BDP. I went along with supporters as to the requirements of the nomination form. The deposit was paid for by the party and the form itself was signed by the party leader.”
Lt. Gen. Khama sums it up very well, and I can not agree with him more.
Hon. Kokorwe’s 1998 motion successfully passed in parliament, but it never came into effect because a Bill for constitutional amendment was not presented at that stage. It was only in 2011 that Hon. Masisi, MP.and Hon. Mokalake, MP. presented the necessary Bills, which were later withdrawn in order to undertake some consultation. In the process, it has become evident that consultations were long concluded in 1998/99, and the result was an overwhelming call for such legislation.
It would be remiss to omit that feedback from legislators pointed to the fact that their only hesitation was on the clause that prescribed a loss of parliamentary seat if one should be expelled from a party. Consequently, we wish to assure legislators, as well as the public, that the loss of a seat only affects members who voluntarily resign from their parties.
Be that as it may, the long awaited implementation is upon us. The Bills that Hon. Molale, MP. and I are presenting are long overdue. They have popular demand. The voters must be allowed to dispense some democratic justice by returning to the polls and issuing a new mandate. The Bills seek to assist this process.
I wish to conclude by associating myself with the sentiments attributed to Dr. Margaret Nasha, MP., as recorded in the Hansard of 07th August, 1998. It is recorded that she stood in support of Hon. Kokorwe, MP.’s motion and expressed regret that ruling party politicians had been castigated for keeping quiet amidst the outcries of the people. The 12th Parliament must, therefore, be careful not be judged the same way; we cannot pretend that people are happy and look the other way. We must respond by demonstrating commitment to upholding the decisions of the electorate. Just like Dr. Nasha, I concur that the motion was justified. Furthermore, I submit that the current bill is well justified. The public vote is sacred and deserves protection.
Kabo Neale Sechele Morwaeng, MP.
Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration