Venson-Moitoi's presidential race an uphill battle


Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s presidential campaign faces insurmountable obstacles in pursuance of its objectives, as their numbers seemingly don’t add up. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) structures have simply connived against her first ever challenge of the sitting President and endorsed the incumbent President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports that it will only take a miracle of Biblical proportion for team Venson-Moitoi to oust the well-resourced Team Masisi

Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s presidential campaign faces insurmountable obstacles in pursuance of its objectives, as their numbers seemingly don’t add up. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) structures have simply connived against her first ever challenge of the sitting President and endorsed the incumbent President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports that it will only take a miracle of Biblical proportion for team Venson-Moitoi to oust the well-resourced Team Masisi

FRANCISTOWN: In some quarters, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the Venson-Moitoi team also known as the New Jerusalem axis is going to emerge badly bruised from the Kang special congress.

Presidential hopeful, Venson-Moitoi threw a spanner in the works this week during a presser when she raised doubts about her candidacy with a possibility of her withdrawing from the race.

This has possibly spoiled the New Jerusalem party as she raised concerns about procedures and processes. Now, she has moved into action with a view to interdicting the congress citing a plethora of irregularities.

From the onset, she has been worried about the party structures and the leadership exercising its bias by leaning towards the incumbent instead of giving both candidates equal opportunities. The matter is not helped by the fact that the New Jerusalem faction is not ready to pose any serious challenge to the incumbent, more so that they are not united in their quest to unseat Masisi as of now.  For instance, one of their chief organisers and fundraiser Tati-East legislator Samson Moyo Guma is on self-imposed exile after he escaped arrest by the tax agency, Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) services for a hefty P30 million.

Pundits are also adamant that the New Jerusalem faction does not have a logical, coherent strategy to execute their actions.  With former president Ian Khama having declared his support for Venson-Moitoi, there is a general view that Khama, who has since fallen out with his former protégé Masisi, is using Venson-Moitoi to make a come back.

After looking at various factors, Adam Mfundisi, lecturer of political and administrative studies at the University of Botswana observed that the president of the BDP and government is on the verge of a landslide victory.

“This is not a result of any superiority over the challenger. Qualitatively, the challenger has more credence than the incumbent. She has a long record of public service both in Botswana and in South Africa.

Moreover, she is highly educated and learned than the incumbent,” Mfundisi analysed this week. He concurred that the odds are stacked against Venson-Moitoi. 

He, however, credited the challenger for the moral courage to test the uncharted waters knowing her activities and decisions would have personal cost or risk associated with doing so. 

The incumbency factor is the primary determinant of the electoral outcome.  President Masisi has significant advantage across the electoral spectrum in this contest. There are structural factors that strengthen the position of the incumbent vis-à-vis the challenger in the elections.

“The incumbent has access to State resources to boost his campaigns. For example, the incumbent had access to the airwaves than his challenger – the use of government media to propagate the views of the incumbent.

Furthermore, the abuse or misuse of State institutions to intimidate the challenger and her support base contribute to the predictable electoral outcome in Kang,” Mfundisi pointed out.

The President of Botswana and the BDP hasve ample access to campaign finance than the challenger. The former uses party finances as well as received donations from private businesses to reinforce his campaign for election as the party president and government leader. 

“Money highly matters in elections. This is the repeat of the Dubai outcome in the Tonota elective congress where the current President vanquished another contender to the chairpersonship of the BDP. Similar strategies are applied to out-box a competitor by using crook and hook tactics.”

The incumbent also used his virtues and services to begin the campaign earlier than the challenger. The President had an advantage over the challenger as he started the process a long time ago.   The BDP had never had a contest at the highest level of the party. It has always been assumed that the incumbent will automatically ascent to the highest office without contest.

The challenger shocked the establishment hence the vitriolic and puerile attacks against her and her supporters.

The use of state resources Mfundisi posited has been at unprecedented pace, both overtly and covertly.

“The DIS, BURS, and DCEC among others have been deployed to discredit Venson-Moitoi and her support base. Her citizenship has been questioned by the BDP-led government of which she served in its government for four decades.”

President Masisi’s other advantages also include name recognition, national attention, campaign bases, control over instruments of government, successful campaign experience, a presumption of success, voter inertia and risk averse.

Further analysed the UB don: “As the President of the country, he has political clout. BDP voters hold the incumbent in high esteem because he is the head of state and government.

They call him HE MEK thereby elevating his stature to a high level.” In fact, everyone wants to be associated with power. National attention gives Masisi an added advantage over the challenger, for example, in the exercise of executive powers he affects the lives of citizens in various ways.

Mfundisi buttressed that in meeting foreign dignitaries it elevates his stature in the eyes of the voters. Masisi, according to the political analyst, is more visible in the public domain than the challenger.

He credits the President to be having wide experience in campaigns, for example, the Dubai successful experience in Tonota elective congress.   He also pointed out at the visible presumption of success in terms of some reforms in terms of opening the democratic space and international engagement.

Voter inertia and risk averse also strengthens Masisi’s grip to power within the BDP. The ability of the President to appeal to voters as a national and world leader rather than as a candidate reinforces his candidature.  

Moreover, the UB academic said Masisi’s ability to campaign on change platform resonates with BDP voters who loath former president Khama’s administration, which also included the current President.

 The incumbent and his campaign team have unleashed the structures of the party to sustain his campaign.

He has literally left no stone unturned in his re-election bid.  The central committee, the Women’s Wing, and the BDP National Youth Executive Committee (NYEC) have all endorsed the President. Elders have also been mobilised to endorse him.  “Additionally, ministers, MPs, and other influential people have been endorsing him at an alarming rate,” Mfundisi told Mmegi this week and added: “The motives are not articulated in these endorsements.

These endorsements have conflicted many people in the BDP”. Therefore, they would not be seen as impartial, fair, and credible in managing the electoral process.

Furthermore, there are multiple interpretations of the BDP constitution in so far as the elections have been carried out.

The incumbent is empowered to appoint an electoral board, which contravenes the principles of fair play.

In such a volatile environment it would be fair to have an independent electoral commission to supervise the elections or any other independent body (ies).

In conclusion Mfundisi warned the BDP leadership: “Self-righteous is no religion.  When power is combined with zealotry and self-righteousness, our constitutional democracy is under threat.  The BDP must seriously undertake self-reflection, otherwise it will be relegated to the periphery in the political landscape”.

He further added that the elections will not be free, fair and credible and that structures, processes, procedures and people have been compromised. “The BDP is going for a split with far-reaching implications for the party and the country,” was Mfundisi’s last words. Another UB don, senior lecturer in politics, Kebapetse Lotshwao holds a view that Masisi will emerge victorious in Kang. Unlike his challenger, Lotshwao says, Masisi now has a significant following within the party as evidenced by the high number of regions that have publicly stated their support for him.

Such support comes from the fact that the BDP tradition is to support the leader.

“The support also comes from Masisi’s track record as President.

Among others, he consults the key stakeholders such as the trade unions, the private media and the communities,” Lotshwao noted.

He credits Masisi as fighting corruption, which became entrenched in the last decade. The President is also working to open up exclusive sectors like tourism to local people.

Lotshwao is adamant that Venson-Moitoi will not win because she has no following within the party.

“No one knows what exactly she stands for.  Her chances are further dented by her association with former president Khama, an unpopular leader who under his leadership the ruling party was for the first time voted by less than 50% of the people in a general election,” he said.

Khama’s unpopularity, Lotshwao said, emanates among other things from his style of leadership, as he did not consult, “he weakened key state institutions and generally ruled through fear”.

He highlighted that under Khama corruption got worse and because Khama supports Venson-Moitoi, “it’s natural to think that should Venson-Moitoi win, Khama will rule from behind the scene, in the process returning the country to the wrongs that occurred during his reign”.

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