Botswana polls has opened on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. (0430 GMT) for a general election that is expected to provide the first genuine challenge to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in its five decades of dominance.
Over 900,000 registered voters are expected to cast their ballots across the country to elect members of the national assembly and by extension the president of the southern African nation.
The government declared 23rd -24th October as public holidays to allow full participation of citizens in the democratic process.
The vote caps a busy election year for the southern Africa region which has witnessed elections in South Africa, Malawi, DR Congo and earlier this month in Mozambique.
Of Botswana’s population of 2.2 million people, 924,000 registered voters will elect 57 national assembly and 490 local government representatives. Polls closes at 7 p.m.
Campaigning on promises to drive that economic transformation, Duma Boko, leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, is hoping to unseat the BDP of President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
He is backed by former President Ian Khama, who handed over to Masisi last year but has since fallen into a bitter power struggle with him.
“We remain resolute and confident that we are going to win this election,” Boko told a news conference on Monday night before warning of possible fraud.
“I can only accept the result if the election is free and credible,” he added, raising the spectre that Botswana, which has only known one-sided elections, could witness its first rancorous dispute over a tight result.
The main concerns for the Batswana are unemployment hovering at around 20% and stark inequalities despite equitable state spending on health and education, to tackle either, the winner will need to do more to diversify the economy.
Mbakisi Gopolang, 25, waiting in line to cast his vote at a primary school in the capital Gaborone, said he was disappointed by the last decade under the governing BDP.
“The last ten years have been regressive, so I don’t want continuation of that. I am voting for a party that will drive economic growth, empower citizens and get rid of corruption and bring about transparency.”
The party that will have the largest number of elected representatives out of the 57 seats to be filled in the parliament, will choose the President.
Results are expected in the coming days.