Botswana's long-governing party sweeps elections
Monday, October 19, 2009
GABORONE, Botswana -- Botswana's governing party, which has been in power for more than four decades, once again swept parliamentary elections that regional observers deemed free and fair, the country's independent electoral commission announced Sunday.
The overwhelming legislative majority cleared the way for President Seretse Ian Khama to continue as leader of the world's largest diamond-producing country.
The commission announced Sunday that the Botswana Democratic Party had won 45 out of the 57 parliamentary seats in Friday's vote, a peaceful election all but eclipsed by political struggles and violence elsewhere in Africa. The party has been in power since Botswana won independence from Britain in 1966.
"Some said after 43 years in power people want change and that we were complacent, Khama told supporters Sunday at a victory celebration. "A lot people have shown that they trust us."
Hundreds of BDP supporters dressed in the red and black colors of the party gathered on a dirty soccer field in a rural slum called Old Naledi for the victory celebration.
Children climbed trees to catch a glimpse of the president, whose personal touch and walkabouts on a bicycle prior to the elections are believed to have been crucial in securing victory in a constituency the ruling BDP has not won in more than 25 years.
The BDP prevailed over a divided opposition even though the country faces numerous challenges: a global recession that has dampened appetites for diamonds and other luxury goods, widespread poverty and one of the continent's highest AIDS rates.
The opposition will only hold an inconsequential 11 seats in the National Assembly, with an independent candidate taking one seat. The conflict-ridden Botswana National Front won six seats, down from 12 in the 2004 elections. The Botswana Congress Party(BCP)/Botswana Alliance Movement won five seats, up from just one in the last vote.
Khama, a former army commander, is the son of the country's first president after independence and has considerable support because of his late father's popularity. He was serving as vice president when President Festus Mogae stepped down last year before the end of his second term, when the constitution required him to leave office. Khama's inauguration is set for Tuesday.
The country's opposition, which is divided and weak, calls Khama a divisive figure whose military background did not prepare him to lead a democracy. He dismisses charges that he has tried to suppress dissent.
Botswana, one of Africa's most politically and economically stable countries, is the size of Texas and sparsely populated. It might be best known in the West as the setting of Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" novels and HBO TV series.
The country suffers from high levels of poverty and unemployment, and the worldwide recession has lowered demand for its diamonds. The country's GDP shrank by 20 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to the 2009 African Economic Outlook.