A group of top officials of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has vowed to form a new party and join an opposition coalition after accusing President Ian Khama of dictatorial tendencies and resentment towards dissenting views.
Sydney Pilane, a leading member of the splinter group, said President Khama’s “authoritarianism” is undermining Botswana’s democratic efforts.
“Since the current president took over, we have watched with apprehension his style of leadership. It has tended to be too military (and) too authoritarian. We have great fear that our democracy is declining at so rapid a pace we do not think that we will have much of it left in not too long a time. Our civil liberties are being eroded and the rule of law is under great risk,” he said.
Members of the splinter group known as “Barata-Phathi” include six current members of parliament and Sydney Pilane, a special advisor to ex-President Festus Mogae.
They have been expelled from the ruling BDP after accusing the party of manipulating public broadcasting and information services.
Pilane said President Khama has often refused to address their concerns.
“We have complained about it; we have sought advice about it; we have criticized him for it; we have sought to discuss it with him, but none of this has worked. He insists on his way and it seems there is no way moving him and so we have determined that perhaps something requires to be done to rid the country of him, of course, through democratic means,” Pilane said.
He said the group is in discussion with several opposition parties to form an alliance in the next general elections
Pilane said the ruling party executives have refused to address the group’s demand for more democratic reforms.
“Instead of engaging the issues they will find excuses to explain our departure from them. At our meeting held on Saturday... we agreed to a list of concerns and remedy to those concerns (and) we took this to him (President Khama). His response to them was to issue a press statement in which he said they were outrageous untenable and impracticable. He branded us as dissidents and threatened us with discipline,” Pilane said.
But the chairman of the ruling BDP party denied President Khama is undermining Botswana’s democracy.
Daniel Kwelagobe said President Khama believes in democracy and has fully embraced its tenets.
“I don’t think he is governing the party like a military man. I think he is running the government within the framework of the Botswana constitution. And within the Botswana constitution if the people are not satisfied they are allowed to air their views either directly to the president or they can air thier views in public anywhere,” Kwelagobe said.
The BDP has governed the country since independence, and analysts say the splinter group would open the door for others to leave the party something the analysts think would weaken the party.
But ruling BDP chairman Kwelagobe denied the party is in a crisis.
“There are concerns within the party (but) I don’t know whether I can classify that as a crisis. But certainly there are people who are unhappy with the way the party is being run and of course they are entitled to their views,” Kwelagobe said.