/ 21 February 2007

Lesotho’s ruling party wins parliamentary election

Lesotho’s ruling party has won parliamentary elections after facing a tough challenge from a new opposition group in the tiny Southern African kingdom, plagued by one of the world’s worst HIV/Aids crises.

The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) took 61 constituencies out of a total 80, while the main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) gained 17, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said late on Tuesday.

New polls will be held in the Makhaleng constituency because of the death of a candidate from the Alliance of Congress Parties (ACP), which took one constituency, said the IEC.

The LCD, which enjoys a formidable national network after 10 years in power, had promised to deliver on plans to increase old-age pensions and expand free education in the isolated and impoverished country.

But former LCD insider Thomas Thabane galvanised the political scene in October when he broke away to form the ABC, taking a number of LCD members of Parliament with him to press for change in a region where most electorates remain fiercely loyal to liberation-era political parties.

The move left Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government with the slimmest of majorities in the 120-member chamber and forced it to call an early election in the mountainous territory dubbed Africa’s ”kingdom in the sky”.

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

Allegations of irregularities resurfaced against the LCD in the run-up to Saturday’s elections, but observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said after the polls closed there was no sign of irregularities.

More dynamic politics are not expected to ease hardships anytime soon in the country with a history of coups and mutinies.

Lesotho is struggling with drought, unemployment and a raging HIV/Aids crisis that is thought to have infected about one third of adults in the country of 1,8-million people. Life expectancy is 35 years for men and 38 for women.

With limited resources, the former British protectorate is dependent on the continent’s economic powerhouse South Africa, which completely surrounds it.

Lesotho’s fortunes have waned in recent years, particularly after a new global textile deal in 2005 removed quotas supporting an industry once seen as the kingdom’s future.

Mosisili’s LCD has increasingly been accused of failing to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. But it remains a powerful political organisation. – Reuters