Botswana to vote amid rising discontent

Botswana President Ian Khama is widely expected to win this week’s election, but frustration over the state of the economy may erode some support for his party, in power since independence in 1966.
His Botswana Democratic Party faces little pressure in tomorrow’s presidential and parliamentary polls, although infighting may give ground to the divided opposition in the long term, VOA reports.
“I do not see any change in power. The BDP, although divided as it is, will still win this election,” said Lawrence Ookeditse, a political analyst at the University of Botswana.
The world’s biggest diamond producer has sunk into recession due to the global slowdown slashing demand for the precious stone, which accounts for close to 40 % of the economy.
Acting Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo said last month gross domestic product probably shrank 11.5 % in the financial year to the end of June 2009.
The crisis has forced Botswana, seen as one of Africa’s best-run countries with a history of budget surpluses and the region’s strongest currency, to plunge itself into debt to keep afloat.
In May, it turned to China and South Africa for an $825 million (R5971 million) loan for a new power station, and in June it borrowed $1.5 billion (R10 billion) from the African Development Bank to plug a budget hole
Internal squabbles
Growing discontent among grassroots supporters and noisy feuding has shaken the BDP, which dominates the nation of 1.8 million people, seen as one of Africa’s most stable and peaceful democracies.
Khama recently suspended BDP Secretary General Gomolemo Motswaledi for allegedly undermining and challenging his authority, and has also been entangled in disputes with the party’s chairman.
The spat has intensified charges of autocracy and populism against the UK-trained army lieutenant-general and son of the country’s first president.
“His audience most often is the rural folk who lack information and are concerned about immediate bread and butter issues,” the Botswana Gazette said in an editorial that also said Khama “hates politics and rarely engages in debate”.
The mudslinging may see some voters turning to the main opposition, Botswana National Front, although it too has to contend with a splinter group, the Botswana Congress Party.
The BDP won 77.2% of the vote in the previous election in 2004. In the recently dissolved parliament it held 44 of the 57 seats, the national front had 12 and the congress party had 1.
Most voters feel the last 12 months of economic crisis should not be directly blamed on the BDP, under whom annual per capita income has risen to more than $5000 (R36 000).
But Ookeditse said a decision to cut university funding and students’ allowances could erode support for the ruling party.
“The reason why the BDP will slide a bit, apart from the factional divides in the party, is because of a number of initiatives that government has recently come up with, most of them not pleasing to the youth, who make the bulk of registered voters,” he said.

Pic: President Ian Khama of Botswana