Lesotho prepares for restive coalition in latest vote

2017-06-03 15:30
A Basotho woman casts her ballot, at a polling in Maseru, during Lesotho's general election. (AFP)

A Basotho woman casts her ballot, at a polling in Maseru, during Lesotho's general election. (AFP)

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Maseru - Voters in the small southern African kingdom of Lesotho go to polls Saturday in an election widely expected to lead to another fractious coalition government and the risk of deepening instability.

It is the third general election since 2012 in Lesotho, where years of political in-fighting have undermined attempts to tackle dire poverty and unemployment.

The snap election was announced in March when Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a no-confidence vote after his seven-party coalition government broke up less than two years after it was formed.

The vote is seen as a two-horse race between old rivals Mosisili and Thomas Thabane, who ruled from 2012 to 2015, with the victor set to emerge from post-vote negotiations with coalition partners.

Thabane has drawn large crowds to his rallies and is seen as the narrow favourite.

Protests could break out if Mosisili is defeated and he refuses to concede power, "as his attitude and actions suggest he might," said Peter Fabricius of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.

In a research report, Fabricius said the SADC, the southern African regional body, had made it clear to Mosisili that "it will not tolerate any theft of the election."

In the capital of Maseru, Thabane's All Basotho Congress (ABC) and Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC) party have competed for votes via giant billboards and posters.

"It is not likely that a single party will garner a majority of votes," political analyst Mafa Sejanamane, of the National University of Lesotho, told AFP.

"The urban vote is largely set to go to the ABC. The vote in rural areas is now likely to be shared between the DC and its splinter, the Alliance of Democrats."

'Difficult to choose'

The mountainous country suffers high unemployment and a 22.7 percent H.I.V.-AIDS rate in adults, with an economy dependent on South Africa, which surrounds it completely.

"The people in power have let us down, as we have seen with the last government and the one before it," Tefo Mohale, an unemployed 27-year-old, told AFP.

"The next government is going to follow suit, it is difficult to choose who to trust."

According to the electoral commission, 1.2 million people have registered to vote.

Thabane was forced to flee to South Africa in 2014 after an attempted coup by the army.

"It was the most undignified thing that happened to me, to wear (just) my pants... and go through the fence with my wife, running away from the state house," Thabane told AFP on the campaign trail.

At his final rally, Mosisili accused Thabane of escaping to seek foreign protection after "chowing through the public's money."

Critics accuse the army of meddling in politics and favouring Mosisili.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Letsie III, who has no formal power, and it has a mixed parliamentary system.

Eighty lawmakers are voted in by constituents, while another 40 seats are distributed proportionally.

Mosisili's DC party is forecast to join forces with the Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) and the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).

Thabane's ABC party and the Alliance Democrats (AD) of Monyane Moleleki, a former police minister, are also in talks to form a possible coalition government.

Reflecting frustration at the country's politics, voter turnout declined sharply to just 46 percent in 2015 from 66 percent in 2002.

Voting opens at 0500 GMT and closes at 1500 GMT, with counting expected to take several days.

Read more on:    pakalitha mosisili  |  tom thabane  |  lesotho  |  southern africa

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