June 29, 2010

Khama faces rare dissent

Members of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) have launched a splinter party that could pose the first serious challenge to President Ian Khama. Support for the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), which was formed in May, has gained momentum, with four ruling-party MPs recently crossing the floor to the BMD. More are expected to follow in the run-up to the party's inaugural congress in November. Three BDP members from the Gaborone city council have also defected.
Warning of the "rapid decline of our democracy", BMD chairman Gomolemo Motswaledi said "we cannot sit back and watch as if it's all normal". Mr Motswaledi said the party opposes rising harassment of public officers and workers, harassment of political dissenters, and "the use of government media as a platform to attack and criminalise people seeking justice".

The BDP won a majority of seats (45) in elections in October 2009, with 53,26% of the vote. The opposition Botswana National Front received 21,94% of the vote and the Botswana Congress Party 19,15%.

Mr Motswaledi, a former BDP secretary-general suspended from the ruling party by Mr Khama in August 2009, recently challenged the president's decision to unilaterally reappoint BDP executive secretary Comma Serema, party lawyers Collins and Newman and 77 members of BDP subcommittees. He took the matter to court. Chief Justice Julian Nganunu ruled the president enjoys total immunity against prosecution for all activities in his private and official capacities, and in respect of all civil suits.

Now BMD members want an overhaul of the constitution to decentralise power, entrench practices preventing the executive abuse of power and to stop the state clamping down on freedom of expression. Official figures show that 14 people have been killed since Khama assumed office in April 2008 without prosecution or investigation. The most dramatic was the case of John Kalafatis, apparently wanted in connection with a burglary at the home of a close Khama ally. He was shot from behind by state security agents while drinking in a stationary car in Gaborone, outside a bar in full view of its patrons on May 13. Tebogo Moipolai, executive secretary of the Law Society of Botswana, said: "The killing ... showed a definite intention to kill an unarmed civilian who posed no threat to security agents."

The Law Society says although inquests were once routinely held in Botswana when civilians were killed, this had not happened in the case of nine of the 13 deaths by gunshot since Mr Khama assumed office. There is also growing concern about the disproportionate increase in the number of expatriate professionals being declared prohibited immigrants. (Business Day)

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