Wednesday is D-Day for Botswana

Botswana will vote in its 11th general election on Wednesday. There has been some strife in the country in the run-up to the polls. Former president Ian Khama is backing the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front in the election                                                              Picture: Iss today
Botswana will vote in its 11th general election on Wednesday. There has been some strife in the country in the run-up to the polls. Former president Ian Khama is backing the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front in the election Picture: Iss today

Members of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) are biting their nails and have got the collywobbles as the diamond-rich country heads for its most hotly contested election on Wednesday.

After having been at the helm of government since Botswana gained independence 53 years ago, BDP finds itself on tenterhooks as it battles to remain in power amid the pressure which appears to be higher than usual this time around.

There have been months of fierce campaigning marred by dramatic political wrangling, finger-pointing and discrediting tactics.

Now it is up to more than 900 000 registered voters to decide the fate of their government on Wednesday.

Trying time for BDP

The BDP finds itself in a fierce election showdown against those who used to wear its trademark red colour.

They include Botswana’s former president, who also led BDP, Ian Khama, and Biggie Butale, who was an MP on a BDP ticket.

The latter formed the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), which was officially launched a little more than three months ago.

Khama left BDP following a fall-out with his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, amid internal political strife, and joined BPF.

He has since made it clear that he was pushing for the removal of his father’s party from power.

Meanwhile, the BDP is also facing competition from the Alliance for Progressives (AP) which is led by a former member of the BDP, Ndaba Gaolathe.

There is also the official opposition since the 2014 elections, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), led by Duma Boko, who was a known critic of Khama.

The Khama Factor

Khama might not be a candidate in the elections but he has been campaigning actively for BPF.

The former president was not everyone’s favourite during his time at the helm.

His active participation in politics might not help his former or his new party.

It remains to be seen whether those who did not like him will vote BDP in numbers now that he is gone.

The latter party might still lose votes because it was under its ticket that Khama passed his alleged strict policies.

The 66-year-old trained soldier is also Chief of Bangwato in the central region of Botswana. The BPF is contesting only in 19 of 57 constituencies in Botswana.

The central region is a known stronghold of BDP and it is here where loyalty is going to be tested with BPF contesting in all 18 constituencies in the region.

Khama is believed to be expecting his party to garner votes in this area out of loyalty to him and his brother, Tshekedi Khama, who recently left BDP and joined him at BPF.

Election numbers

Botswana has 57 directly contested parliamentary constituencies and for an outright win to become the majority party, parties must win at least 29 constituency seats.

The BPF, which is in coalition with the UDC, on its own is far from achieving 29 as it is contesting only 18 constituencies.

But it is encouraging its supporters to vote UDC in areas where it is not represented.

The two parties need each other’s help.

Media reports from Botswana cited a recent survey, which predicted a landslide victory for BDP.

But others think the governing party seats will continue to drop in this election.

The BDP has gone from 45 seats in the 2009 general elections to 37 in 2014 when the then newcomer, UDC, took seven.

Possibilities of a hung Parliament, a formal coalition between UDC and BPF, and the AP being the kingmaker have not been ruled out.

The prime candidates

Last Wednesday evening was probably the day Botswana recorded the highest viewer rating and listenership as four presidential hopefuls locked horns in a debate where they unpacked their manifestos and got grilled.

The heated two-hour debate was streamed on Facebook. Masisi appeared composed while Boko was full of energy.

The articulate Gaolathe played away from finger-pointing as the presidential hopefuls deciphered their manifestos.

The soft-spoken Butale stood next to Masisi, who was dressed in the same red party blazer he used to wear when they sang from a different hymn book.

One of these men will soon be inaugurated as Botswana’s president.

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