/ 4 March 2015

Snap Lesotho election reveals no outright winner

A Lesotho man prepares to vote. A snap election
A Lesotho man prepares to vote. A snap election

The final results of Lesotho’s general elections revealed no clear winner as the ruling All Basotho Congress (ABC) party narrowly edged out its nearest rivals in the weekend poll, data on the website of the country’s electoral commission showed on Wednesday.

Incumbent Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s party won 40 constituencies, just three more than the Democratic Congress (DC), as the close race tested the durability of a South Africa-brokered truce following an alleged attempted coup last August.

No one party won enough votes to govern alone, meaning the country will get another coalition government.

The snap parliamentary election was aimed at bringing stability to the crisis-hit southern African kingdom.

The elections were transparent and fair, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Observation Mission said on Monday.

The African Union (AU) described the election as “peaceful” but noted continuing security concerns in the wake of the failed coup in August last year which prompted Thabane to flee to South Africa.

Deteriorating political situation
Lesotho has a mixed parliamentary system. Eighty lawmakers are voted into power by constituents, while another 40 seats are distributed proportionally after the final tally to ensure all parties are represented.

A party needs 61 of the 120 seats available to rule without being forced into a coalition.

Completely landlocked by South Africa, Lesotho is one of the world’s poorest countries and its economy is heavily dependent on its larger neighbour, to whom it exports water and hydroelectric power.

The political situation has been deteriorating since June after the prime minister suspended Parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence that would likely have seen him ousted from power.

In the last fragile coalition government, the ABC did not hold the majority of seats in parliament, but outmanoeuvered the winning DC by teaming up with several smaller parties, including the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, which has since rescinded its allegiance.

And with the results pointing once again to coalition, analysts have warned of history repeating itself.

“In a few months’ time, we could be exactly where we are now as a result of the failure of the first coalition,” said Tsoeu Petlane, director of the Maseru-based Transformation Resource Centre.

The major parties have two weeks to woo their smaller counterparts in the hope of forming a majority and with it, take control of the national assembly.

Observers from SADC said laws and policies governing coalition governments in Lesotho needed to be reviewed.

“We think this time around, whatever the outcome, the government should be better able to deal with the issues ahead,” said South Africa’s Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who headed the observer mission.   

“The elections were peaceful and transparent,” said Raila Odinga, the former Kenyan prime minister who is in charge of the AU observer mission to Lesotho.

But he warned: “The relationship between the army and the police is marked by tension despite the signing of an accord between these two agencies.”

Lesotho’s already tense political atmosphere was further plunged into crisis when soldiers attacked police headquarters in August 2014, looting weapons and killing one officer.

The prime minister described the violence as a coup attempt fuelled by the opposition and temporarily moved to neighbouring South Africa, but both the military and the opposition denied any bid to seize power.

The army was confined to barracks for the election, while the regional bloc SADC deployed 475 police officers to provide security.

The military has frequently been used as a political tool in Lesotho’s past, and Odinga recognised the safety concerns of the judiciary that would have to rule on any electoral disputes. – AFP, Reuters