GABORONE (Reuters) - Ian Khama looked set to remain President of Botswana for another five years as election results from the world’s largest diamond producer showed his ruling party taking the lead on Saturday.
With counting in 25 of the 57 constituencies completed, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) was ahead with 20, main opposition party Botswana National Front held 2 and its splinter party Botswana Congress Party captured 3.
The winning party needs 29 of the 57 seats in parliament to choose the president.
Botswana held parliamentary and presidential elections on Friday and despite frustration over a recession and infighting, the BDP, in power since independence from Britain in 1966, is expected to retain control over the southern African nation.
“The BDP is ahead, but marginally, with the majority of the other (municipal) votes going to the other opposition party (BCP),” Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Oscar Maroba said.
Final results should be announced later on Saturday.
BCP deputy leader Kesitegile Gobotswang said the party remained optimistic about increasing its presence in parliament, but criticised the rate at which results were being released.
“The verification and the counting has been extremely slow. We had hoped by now all the results would have been out, but it looks like we’re going to go into the evening,” he told Reuters.
Botswana has been hit hard as a global slowdown cuts demand for diamonds, which account for close to 40 percent of the economy. The crisis has plunged the landlocked country into debt and gross domestic product is forecast to shrink 10 percent.
However, investors regard Botswana as one of Africa’s best-run countries with a history of budget surpluses and the region’s strongest currency, a sharp contrast to neighbour Zimbabwe, crippled by political and economic turmoil.
Botswana’s Khama is one of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s fiercest critics and told South Africa’s Financial Mail weekly earlier this week a power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe was an affront to democracy.
The BDP has been dogged by internal squabbles which has seen some of its support wane. It lost a main constituency stronghold to the BNF in the capital Gaborone.
Khama, son of the country’s first president, has been in heated arguments with the BDP’s chairman and suspended its secretary general, Gomolemo Motswaledi, for allegedly undermining his authority.
The row has intensified charges of autocracy and populism against Khama, a British-trained army lieutenant-general who has said politics was never his first choice of career. He has dismissed suggestions that infighting could hurt his party.
“There was a potential for a landslide but then there were a few places that were too close to call and we are losing some of those,” said Langston Motsete, a member of the political education and election committee of the BDP, adding he expected the BCP to dethrone the BNF as the main opposition.
The main opposition BNF does not have enough grassroots support to provide a serious challenge and also has to contend with the BCP.
“We are losing ground as the BNF as the biggest opposition here,” BNF council candidate John Bogotsu told Reuters.
“The BCP is more stable. They didn’t have conflicts like we and the BDP. So I think that’s what gave them the advantage, the voters felt that they should give them a chance because they are a stable party.”
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.