(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Khama win eases Mogae's concerns

Vice President Lt-General Seretse Ian Khama this week became the new national chairman of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), sweeping aside incumbent Ponatshego Kedikilwe in a landslide election victory.

The emphatic win at the BDP's congress on Tuesday makes Khama, a relative newcomer to the party, an almost certain bet to succeed President Festus Mogae as the BDP's presidential candidate after the 2004 general elections.

Khama secured 512 votes against Kedikilwe's 219. If Kedikilwe, a veteran politician, had won, analysts predicted he was likely to have challenged President Festus Mogae for leadership of the party - an unprecedented move in a country regarded as one of sub-Saharan Africa's most stable.

In closing remarks at the congress, Khama appeared to hold out an olive branch to his political opponents by telling his followers to make peace.

"I think the results are a triumph for internal party democracy in the Botswana Democratic Party. But it is still too early to say what the aftermath will be ... that is, whether the party will split or whether it will still be united," Mike Mothibi, editor of the Midweek Sun newspaper told IRIN.

The BDP has won every general election since independence in 1966. While Khama's popularity nationally has not been tested, he is the son of Botswana's first president, Sir Seretse Khama, and is the paramount chief of Bamangwato, an area covering over half the constituencies to be contested in the 2004 general election.

Khama was catapulted from the army into the vice-presidency by Mogae in 1999 in a move reportedly aimed at quelling faction fighting within the party. However, grumbles from senior ranks of the BDP were heard from those who considered themselves better qualified for the post.

Mogae, who was himself a party outsider before becoming president in 1998, now has a central committee that is effectively under his control, analysts said.

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