/ 19 February 2007

Opposition wins first seat as Lesotho tallies votes

The first two results announced on Sunday in Lesotho’s closely contested parliamentary election gave the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, in power for a decade, and the opposition ABC one seat each.

Electoral officials said the All Basutho Congress (ABC), led by former communications minister Thomas Thabane, had won the Lithoteng constituency in the capital, Maseru, while the LCD had taken the rural seat of Qhlalasi.

ABC supporters erupted in cheers when the first result of Saturday’s election was announced at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Thabane, a former LCD insider, has galvanised the political scene since breaking away last October, taking many LCD members of Parliament with him, to form the ABC.

”People want change and we are the symbol of that change,” he said at his constituency in Makhakhoeng on Saturday.

The breakaway left Pakalitha Mosilsili’s government with the slimmest of majorities in the 120-member chamber and forced it to call an early election.

Allegations of irregularities were made against the LCD in the run-up to the elections, but observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said after the polls closed that there was no sign of irregularities during the vote.

The Electoral Commission said it was not clear when the final results would be released. ”I am not too sure, it might be in a couple of days,” IEC spokesperson Tuoe Hantsi said.

Voters elect 80 MPs using the first-past-the-post system and 40 seats are assigned on the basis of proportional representation, an innovation first used in 2002.

Hantsi said only a few glitches had been reported with some voters not appearing on the voters’ roll but he believed the elections had been free and fair.

Landlocked Lesotho’s 1,8-million people are among the poorest in Africa, struggling with drought, unemployment and one of the worst levels of HIV/Aids in the continent, thought to have infected about one third of the country’s adults.

The 1988 election resulted in riots after the LCD won all but one seat in Parliament and was accused of vote-rigging.

In 2002 the LCD won 77 of the 80 directly contested seats, taking 54% of the vote. That election was endorsed as free and fair by international observers but rejected by the opposition as fraudulent. – Reuters