After a bitter campaign marred by his feud with predecessor Ian Khama, BDP leader’s landslide victory may signal more of the same
Botswana’s President-elect, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has acknowledged that the national elections his party won so decisively this week were the “most challenging” yet for his party, but was quick to add that he was not losing sleep over the situation.
Speaking to City Press after a post-election media briefing in Gaborone yesterday, the high-spirited Masisi, who was declared president on Friday morning, said the only thing that kept him awake, as the ballot-counting continued and results trickled in from Thursday evening, were the friends and relatives who surrounded him.
The elections were marred by political wrangling and discrediting tactics as parties campaigned fiercely for votes.
The most strident rivalry was between Masisi and his predecessor, former president Ian Khama, who left the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and joined the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), a breakaway opposition party from the BDP.
The BPF was endorsed by Khama after he resigned from the BDP, following a fallout with Masisi.
Gaborone lawyer Gideon Duma Boko, who leads the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), was determined to have his party increase its share of parliamentary seats from 17 in the 2014 elections.
The worst casualty of the elections was the UDC.
After an aggressive campaign, in which Boko criss-crossed Botswana in a private aircraft as well as in glamorous German SUVs, his party dropped from 17 parliamentary seats in 2014 to 15 this year.
Even if he was to go into an alliance now with the BPF – led by Biggie Butale, a former MP of the BDP – the two parties would still fall far short of the numbers necessary to take on the governing party, given the fact that the BPF scored only three parliamentary seats.
Another opposition party, the Alliance for Progressives (AP) – formed after its leader and presidential candidate, Ndaba Gaolathe, left the UDC – earned only one seat.
Against the BDP’s 38 seats, the combined seats held by the three opposition parties – the BPF, the UDC and the AP – amount to just 19, which leaves them lagging far behind the governing party.
The BDP gained an extra seat this election, having bagged 37 in 2014. It hit the 29-seat threshold early on Thursday – the number needed for any party to have its presidential candidate declared the winner.
Masisi sounded impressed with the BDP’s parliamentary candidate who was pitted against the UDC’s Boko for the Gaborone Bonnington North constituency.
Not only did the UDC drop in performance, but Boko also failed to win his own constituency: the BDP’s Anna Mokgethi beat him soundly, garnering 3 033 votes against his 1 851.
Masisi said Mokgethi had “sent dear Advocate Boko where he belongs”.
BDP’S IMPROVED PERFORMANCE
Masisi said his party had done well in that it had also succeeded in winning all four wards in the country’s South Region, which has historically been in the hands of the opposition.
The same goes for the Gaborone region.
“Election results were telling … and the one I take my hat off to particularly is our ability, after many dry decades, of taking political charge of our capital city, Gaborone,” said Masisi.
“We hit the 38 mark and our popular vote, despite the challenges we had, has increased significantly above what we had in 2014. It is also extremely pleasing that we are in charge of the overwhelming majority of local councils in this country.
“Results were also revealing in that the patterns of voting were indicative of the thirst that people wished to quench. And, perhaps surprisingly to some – not us – we swept the stakes in places that are traditionally homes to the opposition.”
Masisi added that he believed the BDP could have performed even better had it not been for some drama in the lead-up to elections.
He may have been referring to his very public fallout with Khama and his brother, Tshekedi Khama, and their subsequent departure from the party.
“It was through strategic intervention and hard work that we won,” said Masisi, “and had it not been for the unfortunate circumstances in which we found ourselves, wherein we were divided before the elections, the BDP would have run right over the opposition.”
As Masisi assumes his post for a new five-year term, after holding the fort for 18 months when Khama’s constitutional two five-year terms lapsed, the country sees a BDP divided and a former president in conflict with the incumbent.
The two men’s public bickering, marred by accusations prior to the election, bore signs of an irreparable relationship.
Asked if he was willing to open his arms to Khama and Boko, another fierce critic, Masisi responded by dismissing all the bitter pre-election utterances as “just the nature of politics”.
He said he was going to restart his presidency by hitting the ground running, adding that he had told BDP officials “not to celebrate for long” because promises contained in the party’s manifesto were waiting to be delivered.
“Going forward, the BDP is going to strengthen itself as an organisation, enhance our capabilities and sharpen our abilities to deliver. We have no time to celebrate. We will do so a little, and then it is back to hard work,” he said.
“We will not be shy to go outside and get help from our friends. I would like to note that there are many friends out there who are willing to be of genuine assistance to us, and we will utilise every opportunity that we have.”
BOKO NOT SAYING MUCH
Opposition leader Boko appeared to have gone to ground after the election results, saying little of the election outcome that saw his party take a hard knock.
Asked by City Press yesterday whether his party would work with Masisi, Boko would say only this: “I will be in South Africa on Sunday and will traverse all these and other issues. You will be informed and are invited. Details [of the media briefing] will be communicated”.
Botswana is preparing to get back to work and schools will reopen on Monday.
This after a three-day hiatus, Masisi having declared Wednesday to Friday to be public holidays.
Preparations are currently under way for Masisi’s inauguration, which is scheduled to take place this week.