/ 18 October 2009

Botswana’s Khama wins new term

Botswana’s President Ian Khama secured a new five-year term, extending his rule over the world’s largest diamond producer, after his governing BDP party swept to victory on Saturday in a parliamentary election.

Chief Justice Julian Nganunu said Khama, son of the country’s first president, would remain at the helm of the southern African nation, which is battling a recession and hit by internal party squabbling.

”I have the honour and privilege to declare Ian Khama Botswana’s president as his party has garnered more than enough seats,” Chief Justice Julian Nganunu said on state radio.

The winning party needs to win 29 of the 57 parliamentary seats to select the president. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) — in power since independence in 1966 — had won 36 of the 57 constituencies with counting in 45 completed, according to official results.

The main opposition party Botswana National Front and its splinter party Botswana Congress Party captured four constituencies each. The other seat went to an independent.

The Independent Electoral Commission said it would officially declare the election winner at about 1pm GMT on Sunday.

”For the people to show that confidence in us to give us another five years … to trust us to turn the economy around, I’m ecstatic,” said Langston Motsete, a BDP member of the political education and election committee.

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

African gem
However, investors regard Botswana as one of Africa’s gems, with a history of budget surpluses and the region’s strongest currency, a sharp contrast to neighbouring Zimbabwe, which is crippled by political and economic turmoil.

Khama is one of the most vocal critics of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s policies, and told the Financial Mail weekly earlier this week a power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe was an affront to democracy.

Despite its popularity, the BDP has seen some of its support wane because of fierce infighting, which has intensified charges of autocracy and populism against Khama, a British-trained army lieutenant-general.

”We had not expected the BDP to win with such a large margin. We thought the opposition parties would do much better … The trouble is that there was also infighting within the main opposition party,” said Zibani Maundeni, political analyst at the University of Gabarone.

”The population voted for them in such big numbers. It means they are satisfied with the way the BDP is handling the economy of the country.”

Despite rising discontent, many voters do not blame the economic crisis directly on the BDP, under which annual per capita income has risen to more than $5 000.

Botswana’s Vice-President Mompati Merafhe told Reuters the ruling party was ready to tackle its internal divisions and said education and job creation remained its main challenges.

”We are ready because we are coming back with a very strong mandate, as the figures would have indicated to you,” he said.

”The recession is a worldwide phenomenon, so it’s not for Botswana as a single entity to try and give an undertaking that we will come out of it.”

The BDP won 77,2% 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. – Reuters