Botswana has begun voting in its tenth democratic elections, expected to challenge the faction-torn ruling party as recession hits the world's biggest diamond producer.
Around 725,000 voters have registered to cast parliamentary and local government ballots on Friday, which President Ian Khama's party is tipped to win, despite facing criticism for what many call an authoritarian leadership style.
"I will not hesitate to fire lazy people because they have no place in my government.
"Batswana [local people] deserve good services and I will make sure that that is exactly what they get," Khama told a rally on Thursday.
The 56-year-old son of Seretse Khama, Botswana's founding father, is facing his first election since taking over the reigns last April from Festus Mogae, his predecessor, who retired after serving his maximum ten years as president.
Regular democratic elections and presidents who do not attempt to stay in power after their terms expire have made Botswana a shining example of democracy on the African continent.
However, Botswana faces challenges as the global economic crisis eats into revenues create by the diamond industry, and unemployment and poverty highlight the urgent need to diversify the economy as the deposits are expected to run out in 20 years.
The country has the world's second-highest Aids burden, with one in four adults out of a population of 1.9 million people estimated to be HIV positive, and 47 per cent Batswana live below the poverty line of one dollar per day.
|Supporters of the the BDP cheer at a pre-election rally in the capital Gaborone [AFP]
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party's stake of the popular vote has been steadily declining in recent years, but under the the first-past-the-post electoral system it has held its parliamentary majority with 44 seats after 2004 elections.
"I think the BDP will outrightly win the elections owing to the fact that it still has support in rural areas and most constituencies are not found in towns and cities," Dithapelo Keorapetse, from the University of Botswana, told the AFP news agency.
Seven political parties and 15 independent candidates are contesting the country's 57 constituencies, however the main race is between the BDP, the main opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) and its offshoot, the Botswana Congress Party.
The BNF, which won 26 per cent of the popular vote and 12 parliamentary seats in the 2004 elections, says opposition parties may band together if they win enough constituencies to unseat Khama.
Botswana's parliament has 57 contested seats, and an additional four politicians are appointed by the president.
The winning party will need 29 seats to name their president.