Botswana's President Khama wins new term

Serena Chaudhry,Reuters
Sunday 18 October 2009 14:05

Botswana's President Ian Khama secured a new five-year term today, extending his rule over the world's largest diamond producer, after his governing BDP party swept to victory 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.

To select a president, the winning party needs to win 29 of the 57 parliamentary seats.

Khama's party extended its majority in parliament by capturing one more seat than before Saturday's election.

"We have just received all the results from all constituencies," Osupile Maroba, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), told Reuters by phone.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) - in power since independence in 1966 - won 45 of the 57 constituencies, while the main opposition party Botswana National Front won 6 constituencies and its splinter party the Botswana Congress Party captured 4, Maroba said.

One seat went to the Botswana Alliance Movement, and the final seat went to an independent candidate.

Maroba said the inauguration of Khama would take place within seven days after the release of the official result by the IEC later today.

"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 per cent of the economy. The landlocked country has sunk into debt and gross domestic product is forecast to shrink 10 percent.

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 South Africa's Financial Mail weekly last week a power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe was an affront to democracy.

Despite its popularity, the BDP's support has waned after fierce infighting 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 Gaborone.

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 (£3,000).

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 percent 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.

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