Botswana parties gear up for tough election

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Gaborone (Botswana) (AFP) - Two major parties contesting Botswana's upcoming general elections held their final rallies Saturday ahead of what is expected to be the most competitive election since independence from Britain in 1966.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), led by President Ian Khama, faces its first test with voters after a split in 2010 led to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).

Khama, a former army commander and the son of the country's first president, Seretse Khama, has been in power since 2008 and made it clear at a rally in the capital Gaborone that he would run on his record in the October 24 poll.

"If you want to move forward, vote for the BDP and if you want to move backwards vote for the opposition parties," Khama said to thunderous applause from several thousand supporters.

He pointed to increased power generation as well as dams and pipelines for the parched but diamond-rich southern African country of just over two million people, which is often rated one of the most democratic on the continent.

The opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) also drew a couple of thousand supporters to a rally in Gaborone on Saturday, where leader Dumelang Saleshando promised to create more jobs.

"The BDP-led government has been exporting jobs overseas and the BCP will make sure that we bring back those jobs for Botswana," he said.

Another major party competing in the elections is the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), a coalition of parties including the breakaway BMD.

About 824,000 registered voters will elect lawmakers in 57 constituencies. Parliament in turn elects the president. In the last parliament, the BDP held 41 of the 57 contested seats.

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