Botswana ruling party in disarray ahead of internal poll

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Gaborone – Only a few days left before the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) elects a leader to represent it in elections later this year, there are increasing signs of the party imploding in the course of its worst crisis since attaining power over 50 years ago.

Apparently, the in-house poll might degenerate into a one-man affair after the tensions came to a head this week as axed foreign affairs minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, hinted at pulling out of the election race, in which she is challenging the incumbent, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, for the top job.

As her participation hung by a thread, Venson-Moitoi made damning allegations against BDP ahead of the poll, citing vote rigging, intimidation of her supporters by the incumbent as well as connivance by hotels in the southwestern Kang to disenfranchise her followers.

Kang, located 400 kilometres from the capital Gaborone, is the town where the elective congress of the party currently in disarray is scheduled for Friday. Some reports indicate it could be moved to May.

“This is an election that was rigged from day one,” Venson-Moitoi said at a media briefing this week.

She argued that participating in the election of the factionalised party would thus be tantamount to legitimising fraud.

“When you say an election is rigged, you are not talking about people taking ballot boxes and so forth, you are talking about the whole process from when a delegation is refused to register,” Venson-Moitoi said.

She alleged hotels she had booked for her supporters had made an about turn and inexplicably returned the money for bookings amid the alleged involvement of Masisi’s faction.  Her supporters have allegedly been locked out of a farm she had also booked.

“I am not about to convince myself now that this election is going to run any different on the day as things are happening,” Venson-Moitoi said.

The battles are the aftermath of her challenging Masisi for the presidency of BDP. It is the first time the presidency of the party is contested.

This has factionalised the ruling party in a country that is hailed as a model of democracy and stability in the African continent.

Venson-Moitoi’s decision to enter the presidential race angered party members who regard her as a proxy of the former president, Ian Khama.

Khama and Masisi have fallen out since the latter assumed power exactly a year ago.

Disciplinary action is pending against ruling party officials who attended a meeting addressed by Khama in February.

Gaborone-based political commentator, Moagi Tshwano, said the current tensions within the BDP have left the party vulnerable to another split.

“The tensions are worse than the split in 2010. There have even been reports Masisi’s life was under threat. The ruling party is at its weakest state and prone to a split and further losing its dominance,” Tshwano said.

BDP split in 2010 after members disgruntled by Khama’s leadership quit and established the Botswana Movement for Democracy.

In the last election, BDP saw its dominance in Parliament fall to less than half (46.5%). This is down from the high standards of independence in 1966 after the party garnered 80.4% of the vote.

Speaking in the southern town of Good Hope recently, Masisi was confident unity would be revived.

“Right after the announcement of the results, we are one party, under one leader and we move forward and launch the manifesto as BDP,” Masisi said. – CAJ News

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