/ 19 February 2007

Ruling party builds lead in Lesotho poll

The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy was building up a commanding lead over its rivals as counting continued on Monday after weekend parliamentary elections in Southern Africa’s mountain kingdom.

With the tally completed in nearly half the 80 constituencies at stake, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s party had won 26 seats while Tom Thabane’s new All Basotho Convention (ABC) was trailing in second place with 12 seats, said independent electoral commission spokesperson Rethabile Pholo.

An alliance of minor parties took the remaining two of 39 constituencies to have so far declared after Saturday’s elections, Pholo added.

A total of 80 MPs will be directly elected in constituencies while another 40 will be elected via proportional representation.

If the trend continues, the result would mean an increased majority for the LCD which analysts had said was at risk of being thrown out of office by the new ABC.

The LCD won 79 seats at the last elections in 2002 but saw its majority whittled down when Thabane led a group of 17 MPs to cross the floor of Parliament and sit on the opposition benches.

Thabane, a former foreign minister who was once tipped to succeed Mosisili, walked out of the Cabinet in October in order to set up his party, which has pursued a relentlessly populist agenda, promising a blitz on poverty and corruption.

Largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, development in Lesotho has also been handicapped by HIV/Aids, which affects 30% of the population of about two million.

The ABC leader has already voiced a number of grievances about the electoral process, raising the spectre of another contested ballot in a nation which underwent huge turmoil when the 1998 election outcome was disputed.

Observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) acknowledged that there had been some minor problems but gave the vote a generally clean bill of health on Sunday.

”In spite of these shortcomings, it is our opinion that the mission can … confidently say congratulations to the people of Lesotho following the holding of credible, peaceful and transparent elections,” said SADC mission chief John Chiligati, who is Tanzania’s Employment Minister.

Thabane however claimed some of his supporters had found their names absent from the electoral register and alleged there had been some multiple voting.

When his camp tried to file complaints with the independent electoral commission, their representatives were nowhere to be found, he said.

”I don’t think it was an accident. I think they kept away on purpose,” he told reporters.

The disputed elections in 1998, when Mosisili was first elevated to power, resulted in mass protests which were only quelled when the South African and Botswanan armies intervened.

The final declaration was expected around lunchtime on Tuesday with the results from countryside lagging behind those from urban areas.

”We are trying our best to speed up the counting process, but we are experiencing problems because of the terrain especially in the mountainous area where it’s difficult to access polling station by road,” said Pholo.

”In some stations counting is done manually because of lack of modern technology.” ‒ Sapa-AFP