Polls: Botswana’s ruling BDP struggles to retain its grip

2014-10-23 07:55
Ian Khama. (File, AFP)

Ian Khama. (File, AFP)

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Gaborone - Botswana's ruling party, which has governed the diamond-rich country since 1965, is facing an unprecedented electoral battle as a traditionally fragmented opposition unites against it.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has ruled the southern African country since 1965, is struggling to retain its grip on power as it gears up for what is seen as its fiercest electoral challenge so far.

Three opposition parties, including the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), which split from the BDP in 2010, have come together to present a united challenge to its rule.

Protesting an 18% unemployment rate and intensifying corruption, opposition forces hope to clinch a historic win.

"Most of the independent parliamentary candidates are former members of the BDP," said Zibani Maundeni, a political scientist at the University of Botswana, pointing to the challenges the ruling party faces from erstwhile supporters.

Tightest race ever

Alleged irregularities in the way the party conducted its primaries "dented the BDP and its image", Maundeni added.

Nevertheless, Maundeni said the race is the tightest ever, and the results are difficult to predict. Many analysts expect the BDP to remain in power.

President Ian Khama - in office since 2008 - retains a certain popularity thanks to the relatively prosperous economy and generous social programmes.

Botswana's stability has largely relied on vast diamond deposits, and leaders have been hailed for their adroit negotiations with multinational diamond companies.

Successive governments have also invested in infrastructure and education, raising the literacy rate from 69% in 1991 to about 86%. In 2013, Botswana's gross domestic product grew nearly 6%, according to the World Bank.

"Botswana has greater economic equality than most other African countries. There are no shack settlements," says political analyst Ebrahim Fakir, who was formerly associated with South Africa's Centre for Policy Studies.

But critics of the government say its anti-corruption record is becoming eroded, with several ministers and senior officials having been taken to court on graft charges.

Democratic society

An editor whose newspaper wrote about Khama's alleged involvement in a car accident was arrested recently, while travel bans or visa requirements have been imposed on people close to the opposition, according to Fakir and other analysts.

"People have the perception of Botswana as the freest, most open and democratic society, but free expression is getting substantively shallow on a daily basis," Zoe Titus from the Media Institute for Southern Africa was quoted by South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper as saying.

The BDP has used state resources such as vehicles in its electoral campaign, as well as funding from diamond companies, Fakir said.

But despite such deficiencies in the democratic system, the elections are expected to be transparent, he added.

Analysts say Khama's popularity is especially strong in rural areas among his Tswana ethnic group, which makes up about 80% of the population.

The new government will face the challenge of reducing Botswana's dependence on the diamond industry, which leaves the country vulnerable to market fluctuations. The global crisis which started in 2008 led to a sharp decrease in the demand for diamonds and slowed growth.

Read more on:    bdp  |  ian khama  |  botswana  |  southern africa  |  botswana elections 2014

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