By Thobo Motlhoka
Former President, Ian Khama, and Samson Moyo Guma were nowhere to be seen on Friday as their handpicked presidential candidate Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi delivered the devastating news, pulling the plug on their grand plan to oust President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Venson-Moitoi said Khama was at his holiday home in Mosu while Guma was in South Africa, on a self-imposed exile following claims of assassination threats.
Venson-Moitoi had only Roseline Panzirah Matshome by her side as she explained to the media the reasons for her withdrawal. She had just woken up from another devastating defeat at the Gaborone High Court where she had sought a last minute suspension of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Special Congress.
“I will not run. I will not be running because I will not promote a sham. That election has been rigged from day one,” she told the media at. “I will not run because it will only give legitimacy to something I do not believe in.”
Venson-Moitoi also played the tribalism card, citing the
failure by the High Court to recognize her legitimacy for Botswana presidency as part of the reasons behind decision to withdraw. “I had a case that could have been listened to but could not because one of my parents comes from across the border.”
If the recent recommendations by a Consultancy Report prepared by a Pro-Khama lobby group and given to South African media to discredit President Masisi are anything to go by, the decision to pull out of the race has long been made.
The report recommended that Venson-Moitoi pull out of the race because preparations for the presidential election have been ‘heavily manipulated’ in favor of President Masisi.
It pointed fingers at Masisi loyalists for ‘manipulating’ the processes at local levels where delegates for the convention were being elected.
“Only Mr Masisi and his campaigners enjoy state media coverage. State media coverage is supplemented by abuse of state transport including airplanes which are used to ferry incumbent’s mobilisers.” Campaigning field, the report stated, was completely tilted in favor of incumbent who is permitted to address members of the party across the country. The few attempts by Venson-Moitoi to do likewise, the report said, have been met with threats and intimidation from BDP administration which is run by Masisi’s operatives.
The report also said Venson-Moitoi operatives have been intimidated by letters summoning them for disciplinary hearings immediately after the Special Congress. This is in relation to letters delivered to some BDP members following the controversial Serowe meeting.
“In such a negative climate the challenger is demonstrably constrained and limited in her campaign activities. The question is then why participate in a sham election whose only deliverable will be to legitimize the many transgressions. In this instance Mrs Moitoi must refuse to partake in a travesty of democracy and fair competition. By so doing the incumbent will be recipient of a hollow victory,” says the Consultancy Report.
Following her announcement Venson-Moitoi and her team did not show up for the congress, opting rather to have a hand written withdrawal letter delivered to BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi after official nominations.
In his acceptance speech President Masisi was more accommodative to his opponent. “I am going to call Mma Venson-Moitoi and congratulate her .I’m going to ask her to join me in uniting, this party,” Masisi said. While Venson-Moitoi has dismissed any plans to leave the BDP it remains to be seen if former President Khama will in light of the failure unseat Masisi, consider the recommendations by the Consultancy Report to form a new party.
“Having expressed support for Mrs Moitoi, her defeat will reflect badly on Mr Khama,” the report said.
“Logically the question then turns to which other measures should be put in place to defend the honor and integrity of Mr Khama, which is concomitant with protecting him and his supporters from the hostile trajectory adopted by the Mr Masisi…Our analysis is that for Mr Masisi’s project to become a success, Mr Khama and his associates must continuously be vilified and portrayed in the eyes of the nation as the perennial enemies of the nation.” As a consequence Khama was advised to aid the formation of a new political party. “Mr Khama cannot lead the party in case he is accused of plotting what one of the Botswana ministers, Unity Dow referred to as a Putin strategy to return to power.” For the party to be of significant force, the report said, it will have to rely on BDP members sympathetic to Khama to make up the bulk of its leadership and rank and file.