People line up to vote in Botswana's general elections at the Masa primary school in Gaborone. Polls opened in Botswana on Wednesday as the long-peaceful southern African nation faces what is expected to be its tightest election in history. Picture: Jerome Delay/AP
Fierce and vocal in his criticism of his former party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), former president Ian Khama voted on Wednesday but remained mum on who he voted for. 

This was contrary to the known public stance he has taken since May this year when he left the ruling party and said he did not have a party yet but will support the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) fight the BDP. Although he retired as Botswana’s President in March last year, Khama’s shadow still looms large in Wednesday’s elections of the landlocked and semi-arid Southern African country of 2.3 million people. 

Writing on his Facebook page which is followed and liked by almost 500 000 people after voting with his brother, Khama, the son of Seretse Khama, another Khama who ruled Botswana after gaining independence from Britain in 1966, said every vote counts. 

“This morning I exercised my right as a citizen by voting as I believe this will help us in building our country. Remember your vote counts!,” he wrote and said nothing about his support for UDC. 

With the elections largely being a contest between BDP and UDC, Khama was expected to swing the vote in favour of the latter. But the BDP was very confident of victory, with its candidate Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi indicating that he was ready to return to office again. 

“Batswana, thank you for your support of the BDP - Tsholetsa Domkrag, we look forward to governing with you again and to continue Botswana’s transformation for a better and brighter future to Advance Together Towards A More Inclusive Economy! #VoteBDP#ItsEasyWithMasisi #RebirthOfTheBDP,” he wrote on his Facebook page hours before voting started. 

Masisi is up against Duma Boko, the leader of the UDC and it remains to be seen how the voting will pan out. 

The UDC has already complained about rigging of votes, harassment of its supporters and pleaded with its members to report anything suspicious or fraudulent to us today and we will deal with it anonymously and immediately.

Commenting about possible outcome, Qalakaliboli Dlamini, a Swazi political commentator and writer who lived and worked in Botswana for years and was there when in 2008 Khama allegedly fought and pushed Festus Mogae out of power in a soft coup, said the vote can go either way.

“The BDP has always won (elections) since independence. Whether Khama would swing the vote depends on Masisis rule for the past few years. Khama has always been a dictator! Remember that Festus Mogae had to leave power after Ian Khama demanded to be president of the BDP and started intimidating people by flying military planes all over the country. 

"People who opposed him were either found dead or tied on trees and eaten by lions in the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve). Most people fear him, Batswana are not people who want war - they are cowards! So anything can happen,” Dlamini said. 

Political Bureau