Botswana: party in power for 43 years to win again

BotswanaElection officials in Botswana said Friday that voting was proceeding without incident as voters in the small, stable southern African country lined up at the polls.

Botswana’s governing party, in power for over four decades, is expected to prevail over a divided opposition in these parliamentary elections despite added pressure on leaders in the world’s largest diamond-producing country amid the global recession.

Kogomoditse Leshomo, an election official in Gaborone, the country’s capital, said she had seen no problems.

“I’m happy with the way things are going,” she said.

Voter Gasenna Mohuptsiwa said she woke up at 4 a.m. ? two and a half hours before polls opened ? to get to her northern Gaborone voting station. She said she first voted in the 1970s, and was happy with the way the country has been run since independence. But she wouldn’t say for whom she was voting.

“I’m happy that I’m able to vote for my future and my country,” she said.

Several voters in Gaborone told The Associated Press they were voting for the opposition but would not give their names.

Even the opposition, which warns that one-party rule is being entrenched at the expense of democracy, doesn’t expect victory against a party that has been in power since Botswana won independence from Britain in 1966.

The Botswana Democratic Party won 44 of 57 seats in the last elections held in 2004, with the remaining 13 seats split between the Botswana National Front and the Botswana Congress Party.

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.

Botswana suffers from high levels of poverty and unemployment, and the worldwide recession has dampened global appetites for its diamonds. The country’s GDP shrank by 20 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to the 2009 African Economic Outlook.

Former President Festus Mogae stepped down last year even before the end of his second term, when the constitution required him to leave office. That allows his vice president, Seretse Ian Khama, to run as an incumbent in Friday’s 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.

The opposition, however, has tried to paint Khama as a divisive figure whose military background did not prepare him to lead a democracy.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission, a record 723,617 people have registered to vote ? 243,833 of them between the ages of 18 and 29. Botswana has a population of about 1.8 million.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.