Troubled Lesotho votes for parliament

Troubled Lesotho votes for parliament


Voters in the South African kingdom of Lesotho cast their ballots in Friday’s general election, but hopes were slim that the result would end the country’s longstanding political deadlock.

Lesotho has been governed by a series of coalition governments over the past decade that have proved unruly and weak, and no prime minister has served a full five-year term.

“It’s very likely that there will be a coalition again,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a researcher at the South African Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.

Entirely surrounded by South Africa, which depends heavily on it for its water supply, Lesotho is a mountain kingdom of two million people nicknamed the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’.

It has been plagued by coups and attempted coups since independence from Britain in 1966, and almost a third of its population lives on less than $1.90 a day.

“I hope my vote will count,” said Paul, a 32-year-old who said he walked miles to cast his vote in Koro-Koro, about an hour from the capital Maseru.

Like many others, he used to work in South Africa but the Covid-19 pandemic has turned that on its head and is now unemployed.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were scheduled to close at 5:00 p.m. About 1.5 million people are registered as voters.

In the last election in 2017, only 47 percent of registered voters bothered to cast their vote.

“I’ve never voted and I’m not ready to vote,” Dineo Moketsie, a 32-year-old teacher, told AFP earlier this week, angry at politicians who he says have done nothing to improve living conditions in the country.

“I just feel like it’s a waste of time.”

The process can also be cumbersome and queues outside polling stations can sometimes stretch for hours.

The outgoing government is led by the All Basotho Convention (ABC). But current Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro is not seeking another term after being ousted as party leader earlier this year.

His predecessor Thomas Thabane was forced to resign in 2020 after being accused of ordering the murder of his estranged wife. The charges against him were dropped in July.

The ABC’s new chairman, former Health Minister Nkaku Kabi, is up against a host of rivals.

More than 50 parties are in the running.

“People still believe in our movement and we will win,” said Kabi, 49.

– Millionaire Challenger –

His main challengers include Mathibeli Mokhothu, leader of the Democratic Congress – Lesotho’s second largest party – and Sam Matekane, a millionaire believed to be the country’s richest man, who analysts say could be a dark horse.

“Our country is sinking. So we have to try to save it,” Matekane told AFP in an interview.

His Revolution for Prosperity party dwarfs most others in terms of resources, said Rataibane Ramainoane, a government policy adviser.

“His presence is felt across the country,” he said.

Still, no one is expected to fully win the prospect of much-needed reforms, said Seroala Tsoeu-Ntokoane, a policy analyst at the National University of Lesotho.

“Coalitions are a source of instability because they are formed with political parties that don’t hold much together, no common political platform, no mutual respect,” she said.

The outgoing parliament failed to pass legislation designed to strengthen political stability by barring lawmakers from changing party affiliations within their first three years in office.

The 120-seat parliament is elected through a mixed electoral system – 80 lawmakers are elected by voters, while another 40 seats are distributed proportionally.

International observers will observe the vote. Results are expected next week.

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