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.