Botswana decides today

Botswana decides today

Friday, October 24, 2014 8:48 am

Polls opened Friday in Botswana’s general elections where the ruling party faces a stern test against an invigorated opposition in a country known as one of Africa’s most stable democracies.

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

President Ian Khama

President Ian Khama

“All voting started smoothly at 6:30 am (0430 GMT) in all our polling stations,” Botswana Electoral Commission spokesman Osupile Maroba said.

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 made some inroads since the formation of a breakaway party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) in 2010.

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.

– Modest hometown of three presidents –

In Serowe, President Ian Khama’s home town north of the capital Gaberone, women covered in blankets waited patiently outside polling stations.

“We won’t let our president down, that is why I am here so early. I am voting for our party here, the BDP of Khama,” said Amantle Ramasia, a 67-year-old Serowe resident.

“He is our chief, I know his family well and he is a great man for this country,” she added.

Khama voted at a community hall in the town, accompanied by his younger brother Tshekedi Khama, the minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism.

Women ululated as he stepped out of a white four-by four. He did not stop to greet the elated supporters, jumped the long queue to pick up his ballot and left shortly afterwards.

The parched town, with many traditional thatched roof households, has given the country three presidents — two Khamas as well as Festus Mogae.

Despite this illustrious history, the town is still steeped in poverty, with some roads winding between humble homes still unpaved.

But electricity cables criss-cross above stunted trees, a sign of development many of the locals credit to the ruling party government.

“Change is slow, very slow. I think the government is taking care of us but it’s not enough. We need jobs,” said Tau Mongwase, an unemployed youth from the village.

“The mines are not hiring us anymore. Things are very tough for young people here.”

The BDP’s main challengers are the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), a coalition of parties which includes the breakaway BMD

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