Lesotho prepares for poll contest
A popular minister recently formed a new party promising to alleviate poverty.
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2007 04:45 GMT
 Members of the Independent Electoral
Commission wait to pack ballot boxes [AFP]

Voters in Lesotho, one of Africa's poorest and most Aids-ridden countries, are heading to the polls with the ruling party trying to fend off a fierce challenge from one of its old leading lights.
About 920,000 voters are entitled to cast ballots when booths open at 7am (0500 GMT).
Observers are expecting a strong turnout with interest heightened by the recent formation of the All Basotho Congress (ABC) by Tom Thabane, the former foreign minister.

Thabane, once regarded as heir apparent to Pakalitha Mosisili, the prime minister, is confident of turfing his former colleagues in the Lesotho Congress of Democracy [LCD] out of office after thousands flocked to his rallies.


Most pundits, however, have held back from predicting the winner, with a general consensus that Mosisili has clawed back some of the momentum generated by the ABC after its launch in October last year.


Thabane has been campaigning on a populist ticket, promising to tackle poverty, hunger, corruption and disease.


Mosisili has been pointing to economic indicators, such as inflation running at about five per cent and a predicted 3.5 per cent economic growth in the coming year, as reasons why he should get more time to tackle deep-rooted problems.


Thabane is seen to have the support of the young working class, while Mosisili can rely on backing from older voters and those in rural constituencies.


"The working class was at the ABC rally while the old and the aged were at the LCD rally," reported Lesotho's Public Eye newspaper.


Subsistence living


Much of Lesotho, landlocked by South Africa, still depends on subsistence agriculture, while those who have salaried jobs take home on average less than $1,000 a year.


"The working class was at the ABC rally while the old and the aged were at the LCD rally"

Public Eye
The scourge of HIV/Aids has also proved a major handicap to development with about 30 per cent of the population of nearly two million affected by the disease.


Large numbers of Lesotho citizens who work in South Africa have been pouring through the borders to vote and visit families.


Disputed results in 1998 elections led to violence that was only quelled when troops from South Africa and Botswana intervened at the instigation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).


With elections in 2002 passing in a fair and peaceful manner, the political atmosphere in the country has turned around.


South Africa has offered the use of three helicopters to transport ballot boxes and other security material around the mountainous kingdom.

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