Botswana goes to the polls on Wednesday in a hotly contested general election that could test the country’s traditionally stable politics, as the ruling party faces its toughest challenge yet.
The historic Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) – whose rule has been unfettered since independence from Britain in 1966 – was shaken up earlier this year after former president Ian Khama dramatically renounced his hand-picked successor Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Khama stormed out of the BDP in May after accusing President Masisi – his deputy until last year – of autocracy.
The dispute could fracture the BDP and offset Botswana’s reputation as a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa.
It also strikes another blow to Botswana’s founding party, which saw its share of the vote dip below 50% for the first time at the last election in 2014.
Adding insult to injury, Khama has thrown his weight behind the BDP’s strongest rival – a coalition of opposition parties called the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
While the opposition group was once Khama’s fiercest critic, he has urged voters to back the UDC in a bid to unseat the “dead” BDP.
Khama, whose father co-founded the BDP and served as Botswana’s first president, retains plenty of influence, particularly in the central region – a BDP stronghold – where he is a traditional chief.
Should Khama fulfil his goal, it would be the first time diamond-rich Botswana sees a change of government in 53 years.
Around 931 000 of the country’s 2.2 million people are expected to cast their ballots in the parliamentary and local elections.
The BDP, UDC and two smaller parties will vie for 57 seats in parliament. The party with the most seats chooses the president.