Botswana ruling party faces tougher opposition | Africa | DW | 24.10.2014
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Africa

Botswana ruling party faces tougher opposition

Voters have been going to the polls in Botswana, one of Africa's most stable democracies. The ruling party is expected to win, but faces a stiffer challenge than in previous elections.

President Ian Khama of Botswana

President Ian Khama casting his ballot in Botswana's elections

Voting in Botswana was proceeding smoothly on Friday in a general election in which the ruling party faces an unprecedented test against a recently united opposition.

Queues formed early at polling stations, with some 800,000 registered voters eligible to choose a new parliament, which then elects a president, in the sparsely-populated, diamond-rich nation bordering South Africa.

The election is billed as the most challenging for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), led by President Ian Khama, which has governed the landlocked country since independence from Britain in 1966.

Khama is battling to win over voters in urban areas, where opposition parties have been making inroads.

Dumelang Saleshando, leader of the opposition BCP

Dumelang Saleshando, leader of the opposition BCP, preparing for a televised debate shortly before polling day

The 61-year-old son of the country's first president, Seretse Khama, Khama is also a traditional chief of the Bangwato clan and can count on strong rural support as he runs for a second term in office.

Opposition support growing

Fighting to topple Khama is Dumelang Saleshando, leader of the official opposition, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).

According to an Afrobarometer report issued last week, the BCP, which has campaigned under the slogan "Ready to Lead," is the fastest growing party in the country.

Another major contender is Duma Boko of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), a coalition of parties which will be contesting the elections for the first time.

Boko has accused Khama of being increasingly authoritarian, arguing the country needs a change in leader. However, few expect a change this time round.

The opposition coalition includes the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) formed by disenchanted members of the BDP in 2010.

But the BDP still has the loyal support of a generation of voters won over by high spending on education and welfare benefits.

Diamond mines in Botswana

Botswana is the world's biggest diamond producer, but the global financial crisis led to a drop in revenues

Botswana, the world's biggest diamond producer, has been one of the fastest growing economies since the 1970s. It regularly comes near the top of African governance and transparency indicators.

However, local journalist Phemelo Ramasu told DW some candidates have been reporting that they were harassed, intimidated or assaulted by agents of the Directorate of Intelligence Security Services (DISS) as polling day approached.

Over half of Botswana's 2 million people live in rural areas where diamond mining, toruism and agriculture are the main sources of income. But the global financial crisis triggered a drop in diamond revenues and Khama's government halted planned investment, leading to growing unemployment and slow progress in diversifying the economy.

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