THE TWO million people of Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom landlocked by South Africa, went to the polls Saturday in a snap election, looking to resolve political tensions, six months after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled an attempted coup.
Thabane, leader of the ruling All Basotho Convention, and Pakalitha Mosisili from the main opposition Democratic Congress are the main contenders in national assembly elections that feature 1,106 candidates from 23 parties, including 24 independents.
“The biggest challenge in terms of stability is the fact that the root cause of the outbreak of violence last August was not really dealt with, there’s still a lot of simmering tensions,” Jeffrey Smith, a program officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights in Washington, said by phone on Friday.
Lesotho earns foreign exchange from tourism and exports of mohair. It provides labour to South African mines and supplies water to its neighbour’s industrial hub of Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Thabane in June announced the suspension of Parliament until February, a move opposed by his coalition partner, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy. Friction boiled over on August 30, when Thabane fled to South Africa, saying the army had tried to oust him. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered an agreement that allowed King Letsie III to reopen Parliament and cleared the way for the early elections.
“There are still a lot of alliances between particular political parties and the police and the military and that was never resolved,” Smith said. “Compounding that is the fact that there was no SADC position on the attempted coup. The region didn’t really step up to the plate when they should have.”
A former British protectorate that won its independence in 1966, Lesotho suffered a military coup in 1986 when South Africa’s apartheid government backed an army takeover. A counter-coup in 1991 allowed for elections to take place two years later.
It would be surprising if any of the parties wins an outright majority in Saturday’s vote, Smith said, making the likelihood of another coalition government high. More than 1.22 million voters have registered, the Independent Electoral Commission said on January 28. Polls open at 7 a.m. and are due to close at 5 p.m. A final result may not be declared until March 2 given the remoteness of some voting stations in mountainous areas.
Nkhahle Nkhahle, 45, a blind father of two who works as a switchboard operator for a state-owned company, said he would not be voting because previous governments have failed to help improve his life.
“I have to make sure that I put the bread on the table by myself, but I am a citizen with special needs,” Nkhahle said in an interview in the capital, Maseru. “Let those who are willing to vote go and vote. I am not one of them.”