Wednesday, September 28, 2022

‘People’s Court witnesses were threatened’

When it has failed to convene a quasi-judicial forum that would have litigated alleged electoral fraud in the 2019 general election and when a major opposition party has itself been accused of rigging, should the opposition still be claiming that the outcome of that election was fraudulent?

Former president Ian Khama, who championed the rigging claim before any other opposition leader, points the finger of blame elsewhere: the state.

“The People’s Court did not convene because witnesses, some of whom were public officers, were threatened,” says Khama in response to a Sunday Standard enquiry. “I can’t blame the opposition for failing to convene the forum for the reasons I have given but there is no doubt there was rigging.”

The People’s Court would have featured the Umbrella for Democratic Change, a collective of three opposition parties (Botswana National Front, Botswana Congress Party and the Botswana People’s Party), the Alliance for Progressives and Khama’s own party, the Botswana Patriotic Front. The BCP’s participation in the Court wasn’t clear and effort to get clarification on this point failed because the set of written questions that we long sent to the party were never answered. However, the fact that party president, Dumelang Saleshando, never recanted the concession that he made after the election results were announced can be reasonably construed as rejection of the rigging claims.

Khama was the very first opposition leader to allege rigging. He did so in a video that was promptly shared to Facebook. In the video he indicated that he would take the matter up with UDC and BNF president, Duma Boko, who at the time was lying low. Soon thereafter, Boko emerged to also allege rigging and would controversially choose to give a press conference in a foreign country (South Africa) to make his case. Save the BCP, other opposition parties also hopped on the soapbox about the election rigging and at a point when they felt that they had amassed enough evidence, announced that they would be convening what they termed the “People’s Court.” The proceedings were to be livestreamed on Facebook from a Gaborone CBD hotel. Sunday Standard learns that Khama’s party (BPF) actually made a pre-payment ahead of the event.

However, the Court was never convened and different reasons have been given. While Khama points a finger of blame at the state, some fingers point away from it. A week before the Court was to be convened, one of the witnesses had a change of heart and denied there was ever any rigging. Naturally, that excited speculation that the state was also busy greasing palms. The organisers had to contend with a series of logistical challenges that they never overcame. Dissension in the ranks was also alleged in the BNF: a change-of-leadership congress was on the cards and it was alleged that a camp that wanted to oust Boko from power was not too keen on the Court because it felt that it would bolster his chances of re-election. Much later, as that election neared, Boko’s camp was accused of rigging the electoral process – of essentially being no different from the ruling party.

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