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Ian Khama discredits former party, backs opposition ahead of poll

Monday October 14 2019

Botswana former president Ian Khama Sereste

Botswana's former President Ian Khama Sereste (C) waves to the crowd as he arrives for a rally announcing his brother's candidacy to parliamentary elections in Serowe West on October 13, 2019. PHOTO | MONIRUL BHUIYAN | AFP 

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Serowe

Botswana's influential former president Ian Khama on Sunday threw his weight behind the opposition, a fierce critic of his when he was leader, in a bid to oust his handpicked successor in the country's upcoming elections.

Earlier this year Khama dramatically defected from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has ruled the southern African country since it gained independence from Britain in 1966.

His departure and condemnation of President Mokgweetsi Masisi has thrown the party into an internal crisis ahead of a high-stakes general election on October 23.

The vote will test the strength of the BDP after more than five decades in control of the diamond-rich country, which has a reputation as a beacon of stability in a troubled continent.

SHIFTED LOYALTY

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Khama, a 66-year-old former general whose father led the country to independence, had a bitter fall-out with his former deputy Masisi after he took office last year.

At a rally in his eastern home town Serowe on Sunday, Khama told thousands of supporters that the BDP -- which was co-founded by his father -- was dead.

"The party of the founding father of the republic is no more. It is dead," he said.

"Let us go and vote BPF and UDC," Khama said, referring to the Botswana Patriotic Front, a party formed by his allies who split from the ruling party, and the main opposition coalition Umbrella for Democratic Change.

He urged voters to cast their ballots for the UDC in constituencies where the BPF was not fielding a candidate.

ENDORSING OPPOSITION

Khama even endorsed the UDC's leader Duma Boko.

"Life will be good like before, if voters elect Boko," he said.

It represents a remarkable turnaround from Khama's time in office from 2008-2018, when the UDC was a fierce critic.

In the run-up to the 2014 election, Boko even claimed he was on a hit list of Khama's party.

The former president has said he regrets having chosen "autocratic, intolerant" Masisi as his successor.

Khama is a traditional chief of Serowe, which sits in a central region that has been a traditional BDP stronghold and could be critical in the elections.