Now the hard work begins for Botswana’s Masisi after unlikely win

Saturday November 2 2019

The President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi,

The President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, delivers his speech after being sworn in as the 5th President of the country in Gaborone on November 1, 2019. PHOTO | MONIRUL BHUIYAN | AFP 

KITSEPILE NYATHI
By KITSEPILE NYATHI
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Botswana’s ruling party may have survived its biggest election scare in the October 23 polls since it came to power 53 years ago, but its biggest test—fulfilling election pledges that bordered on populism—lies ahead.

Some of President Mokgweetsi Masisi election promises include increasing the salaries of soldiers, police and prison officers.

He also pledged to accelerate job creation and introduce electric cars. This comes in the wake of rising unpopularity over its decision to lift a ban on game and trophy hunting.

Political analysts say the outcome of the recent election should not lull the Botswana Democratic Party into a false sense of security as the legacy of former president Ian Khama—who backed the opposition with mixed results—would loom large in the next five years.

“The government has retained power, but challenges lie ahead as it celebrates victory. At stake is the country’s glowing reputation for democracy and prosperity,” said Mr Kirby.

He noted that the “personalised nature” of the fight between President Masisi and former head Lt Gen Khama had distracted the ruling party from core policy issues and it was time for the party to get back to basics.

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“Political competition might just give the party some incentive to initiate policies that will benefit the unemployed and disadvantaged. This might help it retain power in future,” Mr Kirby said.

Botswana’s human rights credentials came in the spotlight in the run-up to the elections through a legal tussle over gay rights.

A land mark High Court ruling early this year decriminalised gay sex, but the government is appealing the decision. The government has also come under pressure to improve the treatment of minorities and women.

Former president Khama’s reign was also marred by accusations of extra-judiciary killings and alleged human rights violations, a legacy analysts said the BDP needed to shake-off.

They noted that in the elections, President Masisi benefited from his decision to reverse a number of his predecessor’s signature policies such as lifting a total ban on the hunting of wildlife—mostly elephants—and easing of restrictions on alcohol consumption.”

Thamasanqa Hlase, a South Africa-based regional politics analyst said despite the political setback Lt Gen Khama’s shadow will continue to loom large over the country’s politics and now that the elections were over, President Masisi might need to mend bridges to ensure a stable government.

“The former president might have won only three seats but he remains a force in Botswana politics as leader of one of the most dominant tribes in the country and some influence in the security forces,” he said

BDP, in power since independence in 1966, retained its parliamentary majority after winning 38 of the 57 seats.

Its margin of victory was bigger than in the 2014 polls by one seat as the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change came a distant second with only 15 seats. Lt Gen Khama’s Botswana Patriotic Front only won three seats out of the 15 it vied for in the Bamangwato heartland.

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