Lesotho votes in bid to overcome tension

Thousands queue to cast ballots in hope to end political deadlock after an attempted coup six months ago.

The southern African nation of Lesotho held an early election aimed at overcoming tension among political factions that has led to violence among security forces since last year.

Lesotho voters speak to Al Jazeera’s Erica Wood
Tholoana Mkuzangwe, 25, self-employed
Ha Abia, on the outskirts of Maseru
What are your hopes after the election?
The main one is to see a change and development in our communities.  Particularly for us young people, there are things that we want to see, like job creation. We want the government to empower us to be self-employed or entrepreneurs.

How do you feel about coalition government?   
I’m quite disappointed because I didn’t expect the coalition government to part ways like this, and to break down. We were expecting that they would be able to fix their problems so they could continue governing together.   

Justice Manyonkole, 30, entrepreneur
Leqele, on the outskirts Maseru
How do you feel about the elections? 
I’m feeling good that I’ve come to vote.  I am looking forward to a government that will work together for the good of the people.  Because we have so many challenges in this country, so many mishaps have happened here. I hope there will be a new government that will be good to the people and stop the bloodshed.

What are your personal aspirations and hopes?

I need a new government that will come into power to build new roads for us. I live across the road in the next village and the road is very bad. We need electricity and good health systems.

Voting proceeded smoothly on Saturday in the mountain kingdom, one of the few countries on the continent to have experienced coalition rule.

More than 2,000 polling stations opened across the landlocked mountain kingdom, which is surrounded by South Africa. Delays were reported in some polling stations.

The parliament has 120 seats.

Al Jazeera’s Erica Wood, reporting from the outskirts of Maseru, the capital, said many voters expressed frustration with the ongoing political crisis and were hoping the situation would improve after elections.

“There is an optimism that with international observers and security present that this election will be peaceful and bring about change,” our correspondent said.

Analysts said there is a possibility that no party will win a majority, meaning the country could end up with another coalition government.

The country has been politically deadlocked since Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament in June last year to avoid a motion that would have seen him ousted after his fragile coalition government, in power since 2012, fell apart.

Three parties – the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Thabane, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP) – formed the coalition government.

On August 30, soldiers – reputedly loyal to the opposition – attacked police headquarters, looting weapons and killing one officer. 

Casting his ballot in his home district of Abia, near Maseru, Thabane downplayed the risk of unrest.

“We have to accept the outcome of the election. In the unlikely event that I lose, I will have to accept it,” he said.

Thabane, 75, has previously said this will be his last play for power.

His party faces stiff competition from the Democratic Congress, a splinter party from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy formed by Pakalitha Mosisili, a former prime minister, who ruled from 1998 to 2012.

The Democratic Congress won the most National Assembly seats in the 2012 election, but it was Thabane who ended up forming a government, composed of the ABC and two smaller parties.

Thabane described the violence in August as a coup attempt and fled to neighbouring South Africa, though the military denied this, saying they disarmed the police because they were trying to arm parties critical of the prime minister.

About 1.2 million people are registered to vote in the poll, which was negotiated by mediators from the regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Initial results will be released on Sunday, said Mahapela Lehohla, chairman of Lesotho’s election commission. Military aircraft will help round up the results by flying them from remote areas to the central counting station in Maseru, according to Lehohla.

Source: AP