Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, centre, addresses a rally in his hometown of Moshupa, Botswana, some 45kms (30 miles) west of Gaborone. Botswana's ruling party the BDP (Botswana Democratic Party) faces the tightest election of its history on Wednesday. Picture: Jerome Delay/AP
Gaborone – Botswana’s reputation as a symbol of stability in  a volatile continent will be put under the test on Wednesday as the  Southern African country holds what looks likely to be a disputed  general election.

The polls, which also deals the biggest challenge to the ruling  Botswana Democratic Party (BDP’s) stranglehold on power since  independence from Britain in 1966, is a culmination of infighting within  the ruling party, strained relations between the current president and  his successor as well tensions with the main opposition coalition  Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

Incumbent, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has been involved in a very public spat  with his predecessor, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, with the fractured  relations leading to the latter quitting the party jointly formed by his  father and founding president, Seretse Khama.

The younger Khama, who handpicked Masisi as his successor as he came to  power last year, has infamously thrown his weight behind the opposition  coalition and is the patron of the newly-formed Botswana Patriotic Front  (BPF).

BPF is seen as an offshoot of the ruling party, formed by members siding  with Khama and against Masisi emerging the winner of intra-party  elections to choose the BDP’s flag-bearer in Wednesday election.

Masisi retained the leadership of the party earlier this year after his  closest challenger, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who he fired as Foreign  Affairs minister, pulled out citing vote-rigging and intimidation.

More than 900 000 Batswana are set to cast their votes, up from the more  than 824 000 that participated in the 2014 poll.

Analysts have projected the ructions to further decimate BDP’s share of  the votes.

BDP secured 46,5 percent of the vote in 2014. At the first polls at  independence, it had 80,4 percent. The 2014 outcome was attributed to  the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), in 2010 as  the ruling party suffered a split led by members disgruntled with  Khama’s leadership.

Eric Mosweu, a political analyst, forecast the ruling party to shed some  of its dominance.

“BDP will retain power but this will be the closest-fought poll in  history,” he said.

“The party’s fortunes have been waning after years of infighting and the  exit of Khama will deal BDP’s prospects a major blow,” Mosweu added.

Masisi and his party face a stiff challenge from Duma Boko and his UDC  and Ndaba Gaolathe’s Alliance for Progressives.

Biggie Butale represents the BPF.

Boko, the self-styled incoming President of Botswana, alleged  manipulation of the exercise by the ruling party and state security.

“We want a country where we are free and can speak freely without  intimidation,” he stated.

Masisi’s campaign is premised on building a more inclusive economy,  which relies on Botswana’s diamond wealth.

"BDP has shown real and remarkable changes to uplift our people and to  grow our economy,” Masis said.
 
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has pledged free and fair  polls.

Election day and the two following days have be declared as public  holidays.

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