Vote counting was underway in Lesotho, following a snap election aimed at resolving a political crisis triggered by an alleged coup bid.
Despite tension ahead of Saturday’s parliamentary poll, which was called two years ahead of schedule, election day passed off without incident, according to observers.
“Everything I’ve come across tells me everything has gone extremely well,” Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president of South Africa, who is acting as regional mediator, said shortly after polls closed.
“From my side it is congratulations to the people of Lesotho for having come this far to hold a peaceful election,” Ramaphosa said.
Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) also said the election had proceeded largely without incident, barring some ballot papers in two of over 2,000 polling stations not including the names of all candidates.
“The voting has been proceeding peacefully and according to plan,” said IEC chairperson Justice Mahapela Lehohla.
Lesotho has been in crisis since June 2014, when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament in June 2014 to avoid a motion that would have seen him ousted from power after his fragile coalition government fell apart.
On August 30, soldiers attacked police headquarters, looting weapons and killing one officer.
Thabane described the violence as a coup attempt fuelled by the opposition and fled to neighbouring South Africa.
Both the military and opposition denied any bid to topple him.
The army was confined to barracks during Saturday’s vote.
Ramaphosa was appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) last year to try broker an end to the deadlock.
Landlocked Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa and is heavily dependent on its bigger neighbour in economic terms.
Analysts have warned the election could turn violent if any one party wins an outright majority – particularly Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC).
According to local media, about 1.2-million people were registered to vote.
Casting his ballot in his home district of Abia, near the capital 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 of 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.
Lesotho is no stranger to political upheaval and South Africa has intervened militarily twice before.
For South Africa, ensuring stability across the border is crucial to safeguarding the multi-billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which supplies water to the greater Johannesburg area.
Shoving her hands deep in her pockets on a chilly evening, poll observer Gertrude Manako (53) said what the country of around 2-million needed was politicians with the vision to harness Lesotho’s natural resources.
“As you know, we are one of the poorest countries in the world – but we are not that poor,” she said. “We have minerals in this country. We have diamonds and water.”
Pharmacy assistant Malineo Morake (32) agreed.
A resident of Maseru, her parents live in one of the many villages dotting the mountainous countryside. They are poor, she said, and depend on her sending part of her salary each month to buy food.
“We have politicians who don’t plan for the people… We have good soil. We have water. I would like for people to be able to grow their food for themselves.” – AFP