Lesotho officials probe soldiers' presence near poll stations

Maseru - Election officials in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho on Sunday investigated why armed soldiers had been deployed at many polling stations on voting day.

The army has often been accused of interfering in politics in Lesotho, a landlocked African country of two million people that has been hit by attempted coups and instability in recent years.

"The nation, the voters and even the observers were surprised... they felt that some voters were intimidated," Independent Electoral Commission spokesperson Tuoe Hantsi told reporters.

"The law dictates who should be at the polling stations, and (the soldiers) caused confusion."

Saturday's election was seen as a two-horse race between old rivals Pakalitha Mosisili and Thomas Thabane, who have both served as prime minister.

Thabane fled an attempted military coup in 2014 when he was in power, and analysts say the army could favour Mosisili winning the vote.

The snap election was called when Prime Minister Mosisili, 72, lost a no-confidence vote in March after his seven-party coalition government broke up.

'We will seek explanation'

As vote counting began on Sunday, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional body expressed concern over the army's presence.

"We will be seeking an explanation from the army as to why the soldiers were placed at voting stations," said Augustine Mahiga, head of the SADC observer mission.

The results, due out this week, are expected to lead to a coalition government, with Thabane, 77, seen as the narrow favourite to emerge as the winner.

Thabane's All Basotho Congress party and the Alliance Democrats of Monyane Moleleki, a former police minister, have been in talks to form a possible government.

Mosisili's Democratic Congress party could join forces with the Lesotho Congress of Democracy and the Popular Front for Democracy.

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

Saturday's vote was the third general election since 2012 after years of political in-fighting and coalition collapses that have undermined attempts to tackle dire poverty and unemployment.

Lesotho has a 22.7%  HIV-AidsS rate in adults and an economy dependent on South Africa, which surrounds it completely.

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