Lesotho poll calm despite fears of violence

2015-02-28 20:19

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Johannesburg - The people of the southern African mountain kingdom of Lesotho voted Saturday in early parliamentary elections aimed at restoring stability after the prime minister accused the army of a coup attempt in August.

Twenty-four parties vied for support among the 1.2 million registered voters in the country, which is surrounded by South Africa.

Long queues formed at polling stations, raising hopes of a high turnout.

The vote count was due to start immediately after polling stations closed, with the first results expected Sunday and the final ones by Thursday.

The elections were moved forward by two years after soldiers were accused of attempting a coup on 30 August, surrounding Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's residence and police headquarters. One police officer was killed.

The army said at the time it only wanted to disarm rogue elements within the police force - but the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said the events "had the hallmarks" of a coup.

Thabane fled to South Africa and returned to Lesotho under South African police escort.

The premier's three-party coalition government had run into trouble in June 2014, when his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing announced a vote of no confidence against him, prompting him to dissolve parliament.

Analysts say the strife could be related to Thabane's anti-corruption campaign, which threatened to implicate Metsing. The deputy premier has denied involvement in a coup attempt.

The 24 parties contesting the elections included Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC), Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the smaller Basotho National Party (BNP), which form the coalition government.

The biggest party in the current parliament is former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC), which took nearly 40% of the vote in the 2012 elections, but did not join the coalition.

On casting his vote, Metsing expressed confidence of victory.

The people of Lesotho "need this kind of leadership and you are going to see it when the results are announced", he was quoted by the South African broadcaster SABC as saying.

The DC and LCD have grown close and it was thought possible they could form the next coalition government.

The main political parties have their allies in the security forces, with many in the police seen as siding with Thabane while Metsing enjoys support within the military.

The army had pledged to remain in barracks to calm fears of post-election violence, which is not uncommon in Lesotho.

When he cast his vote, Thabane expressed confidence that there would be no violence.

The SACD, the African Union, the European Union and the British Commonwealth sent observers to the elections, which were expected to be transparent, though analysts said shortfalls in logistics could spark violence.

The differences between the parties are historical rather than ideological, according to Dimpho Motsamai from South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.

She said the government had focused on power struggles rather than on improving the lives of the people, nearly 60% of whom live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Read more on:    lesotho  |  lesotho elections 2015  |  southern africa

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