GABORONE, Botswana (AP) — The party that has ruled Botswana for nearly five decades was leading Saturday in early results from the country's election, but the opposition appeared to have made gains after capitalizing on voter discontent.
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party had secured at least 18 parliamentary seats in the peaceful election on Friday, according to a live broadcast of preliminary results at polling stations. An opposition group, the Umbrella for Democratic Change, had won nine seats and another group, the Botswana Congress Party, had secured two seats, after about half of the constituencies had been counted.
A party needs 29 seats to take power in Botswana and the new parliament elects the president. There are 57 directly elected members of parliament, and the new parliament selects another four members. The president and the attorney general also become members, bringing the total to 63.
The southern African country has a reputation for stability and clean governance, although opposition figures allege the leadership has become increasingly intolerant.
In the 2009 elections, the ruling party won 45 of the 57 directly elected parliamentary seats, but won the popular vote by a smaller margin at 53.3 percent, leading fractious opposition groups to complain they were inadequately represented.
The ruling party is led by President Ian Khama, a retired army general and the son of independence leader Seretse Khama. He was seeking re-election on a platform of economic stability and efforts to alleviate persistent poverty. He has also promised to bring down Botswana's high unemployment, but the president has become increasingly unpopular with the country's unions after he proposed stricter labor laws.
Election results also showed that the ruling party secured a majority in council constituencies. Opposition parties made a strong showing in the country's urban centers, including the capital, Gaborone.
Voting proceeded smoothly. The electoral commission reported minor irregularities on the voters' roll that the commission said were quickly corrected.