Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi's prolonged stay out of office has sparked intense contest among cabinet ministers seeking to be appointed to act in the second highest office in the land, The Patriot on Sunday has learnt. While Masisi recovers at home- three weeks after being admitted to a South African hospital-aggressive lobbying by opposing camps within the ruling party is alleged to be underway as the race for the second most powerful position takes shape. Government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay said during the week that Masisi is making good progress in hospital and is expected to be discharged soon. He said currently no one has been considered for appointment to act on behalf of Masisi and that such arrangement will be communicated to the nation, should the need arise. On Friday night Ramsay reported that Masisi is back in the country and resting at home.
Sources within the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) say the VP’s prolonged absence is naturally stirring up speculation that President Ian Khama might appoint someone to hold the fort in the interim. The BDP leadership is said to be at wits' end trying to ensure that there is calm within its cadres as camps are quetly jostling for the acting position. Shortly before he was hospitalised, Masisi who is also the Area MP for Moshupa-Manyana constituency had receded back into the shadows, withdrawing from addressing media briefings which he was growing accustomed to. Insiders at the BDP speculate that Khama might appoint an acting Vice President, and will mostly choose a neutral person whose appointment might not stirr any controversy and cause divisions. But legal expert, Patrick Gunda, says the decision to appoint anybody to act as the VP while Masisi is away remains the sole prerogative of the President. Therefore, only Khama can make the decision to appoint as he sees it fit or when the need arises. “For now we have been told that Masisi is not well, but he is coming back. So there is no need to appoint anybody to act, unless the situation warrants that,” he said. The University of Botswana (UB) law lecturer however warns that the country could find itself in a constitutional knot if something were to happen to the President in the absence of the VP as that would create a void.
The Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu is said to be a preferable candidate to act as VP while Masisi recuperates. Batshu is one of the long serving cabinet ministers in the Khama administration and is regarded as not being power hungry as he has never sought any leadership position within the party. The MP for Nkange enjoys respect across the political aisle and among public sector unions and his temporary appointment might work well for Khama.
Another minister who couyld be considered by Khama to act on behalf of Masisi is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi on her virtue as the most senior Member of Parliament. The challenge with Moitoi is that she is currently seeking to contest the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Appointing her as the VP might distract her from focussing on the campaign.
The main power players
Since he became President in 2008, Khama has created multiple layers of insulation around his power by fostering competition among the factions within his inner circle making it difficult for them to know who the favourite is. Since he was nominated by President Khama and endorsed by Parliament as the Vice President of Botswana, Masisi has never enjoyed enough support within the ruling party. This was evidenced during the BDP elective congress in Mmadinare where party saw more than five candidates vying for the post of party chairperson which on its own was historic. Masisi, the outspoken and well-articulated politician, has in the past reminded all and sundry that he will become the President in 2018 when Khama vacates office. MP for Selibe Phikwe West Nonofho Molefhi has been tipped as the potential challenger to Masisi for the party chairperson and subsequently the presidency in 2018. Molefhi who is also the Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology has not come out clearly to state his candidacy but those close to him say that he harbours ambitions of challenging Masisi in 2018. The Serowe born politician is regarded as a unifier and grassroots politician as evidenced by the votes he amassed during the elective congress becoming the highest voted additional member of the central committee.
TK as the young brother to President Khama is commonly called has admitted that if approached to challenge for presidency he will consider the move is said to be backing Molefhi now. He is regarded as a power player as he is close to the President and his influence is very critical for the Molefhi team. TK who is the only cabinet minister who can fire and hire as he has shown with hiring of two high profile former senior army officers who were fired by President Khama is regarded as a key player. One of the reasons that he has backed down from contesting for Presidency is said to be avoiding a situation where some will think the BDP has become a family affair for the Khama family.
Just recently her name has cropped up as one of the favourites to occupy the junior state house in case the worst happens. Those who are pushing for her are adamant that this will give President Khama a good legacy as he retires in 2018 as it will indicate women empowerment. Makgato has shown that she is a fighter and not afraid to take her male opponents head on and very good administrator. Some within the party view her as the incarnation of former Vice President Mompati Merafhe at how she tackles issues. Makgato came to Parliament through the special election dispensation and immediately took over as the Minister of Trade and Industry. After 2014 Khama appointed her Minister of Health, a portfolio she had no experience in and many political pundits said that she was misplaced. In two years within the ministry she has acclimatised well and is now one of the best performing ministers. This was evidenced on how she managed the Matsha Senior Secondary School tragedy last year. She is currently the Chairperson of the BDP Women’s Wing and Member of Parliament for Ramokgonami/Sefhare constituency.