BOTSWANA - Botswana's ruling party on Friday nominated President Mokgweetsi Masisi as its candidate for general elections this year after his rival quit the race at the 11th hour.
It was the first time in the history of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has ruled the country since independence more than half a century ago, that the presidential incumbent faced a public challenge for the top job.
But the former foreign minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, withdrew her candidature a few hours before a vote by party members, denouncing the process as a "sham".
Now unopposed, Masisi is widely expected to be elected president at nationwide polls in October, facing a fragmented opposition.
In his acceptance speech, Masisi promised to "do my utmost best... to lead this party not only to victory in 2019, (but also) in 2024".
"Thank you for your endorsement," he told delegates to the party meeting.
Botswana has a two-term presidential limit. Masisi took over the country's leadership from Ian Khama last year, after being hand-picked, but will contest his first election this year. If he wins, his first official term will start then.
Masisi commended Venson-Moitoi's "gallant and spirited campaign" and urged party members "to embrace the democratic practice of competition".
He vowed to reach out to Venson-Moitoi "and ask her to join me in uniting this party".
About a thousand delegates attended a two-day meeting in the small, rural Kalahari Desert town of Kang, 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital Gaborone.
BDP congresses have traditionally been rubber stamps for the incumbent's bid for re-election.
There had been concerns that Venson-Moitoi's unprecedented challenge against a sitting president would upset the stability of the party and even lead to a split.