Botswana votes, Khama seen retaining power

Results from Botswana’s general election trickled in on Saturday with Ian Khama expected to remain head of the world’s largest diamond producer for another five years.

The southern African nation held parliamentary and presidential elections on Friday and Khama’s ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is seen to remain in power despite growing frustration over a recession and BDP infighting.

Most of the municipal votes had been counted with the BDP marginally ahead. Two out of the 57 constituencies were released, with one parliamentary seat going to the BDP and the other to the main opposition, the Botswana National Front (BNF).

“The BDP is ahead, but marginally, with the majority of the other (municipal) votes going to the other opposition party (Botswana Congress Party),” Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Oscar Maroba told Reuters, adding he was still hopeful final results would be announced later on Saturday.

Botswana has been hit hard as a global slowdown cuts demand for diamonds, which account for close to 40 percent of the economy. The crisis has plunged the landlocked country into debt and gross domestic product is forecast to shrink 10 percent.

Despite rising discontent over the state of the economy, voting proceeded without incident and both the BDP and opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP), a splinter group of the BNF, said the elections had been free and fair.

Investors regard Botswana as one of Africa’s best-run countries with a history of budget surpluses and the region’s strongest currency, a sharp contrast to neighbour Zimbabwe, crippled by political and economic turmoil.

Botswana’s Khama is one of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s fiercest critics and told South Africa’s Financial Mail weekly earlier this week a power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe was an affront to democracy.

The BDP, which has ruled Botswana since independence in 1966, has been dogged by internal squabbles which has seen some of its support wane. It lost a main constituency stronghold to the BNF in the country’s capital, Gaborone.

Khama, son of the country’s first president, has been in heated arguments with the BDP’s chairman and suspended its secretary general, Gomolemo Motswaledi, for allegedly undermining his authority.

The row has intensified charges of autocracy and populism against Khama, a British-trained army lieutenant-general who has said politics was never his first choice of career. He has dismissed suggestions that infighting could hurt his party.

The main opposition BNF does not have enough grassroots support to provide a serious challenge and also has to contend with the BCP.

The BDP won 77.2 percent of the vote in the last election in 2004. In the recently dissolved parliament, it held 44 seats while the BNF had 12 and the BCP had 1.

Around 725,000 people registered to vote and the winning party needs 29 of the 57 seats to choose a president.


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