MASERU — Voters wrapped in traditional shepherd’s blankets cast their ballots in Lesotho’s general election on Friday, but observers saw little chance of ending the country’s long-running political stalemate.
The South African kingdom has been ruled by weak and unruly coalitions for the past decade, without a prime minister for a full five-year term.
Some voters walked for miles or stood in line for hours to reach voting booths set up by schools or sometimes under awnings on the lawn.
“I am convinced that our next prime minister will bring us a better life and better conditions,” Mamete Potsane, 74, told AFP.
Dressed in a floral sweater and sneakers, the widow, who lives on a government grant of 800 maloti ($44) a month, gave a thumbs up as she left an election office at the foot of scenic Mount Qiloane.
Polling stations closed at 3:00 p.m. GMT and counting began shortly thereafter. The result is expected to be announced next week.
Nicknamed the “Kingdom in the Sky”, Lesotho is a mountainous country of two million people, completely surrounded by South Africa.
It has been plagued by coups and coup attempts since gaining independence from Britain in 1966, and almost a third of its population lives on less than $1.90 a day.
“We have lost hope,” said 26-year-old Mpho Mochaka. A street vendor selling cigarettes and apples in the capital, Maseru, said she did not vote.
His predecessor Thomas Thabane was forced to resign in 2020 after being accused of ordering the murder of his estranged wife. Charges against him were dropped in July.
The new ABC chairman, former health minister Nkaku Kabi, ran against a host of rivals.
More than 50 parties were in the running.
Kabi’s main challengers were Mathibeli Mokhothu, leader of the Democratic Congress – Lesotho’s second-largest party – and Sam Matekane, a millionaire who analysts say is the richest man in the country and could be a dark horse.
No one is expected to fully win the prospect of much-needed reform, which dims the prospects for much-needed reform, said Seroala Tsoeu-Ntokoane, a political scientist at the National University of Lesotho.
“Coalitions are a source of instability because they are formed with political parties that don’t hold together much, no common political platform, no mutual respect,” she said.
The outgoing parliament failed to pass legislation aimed at bolstering political stability by banning lawmakers from changing party affiliation during their first three years in office.
“We want infrastructure, roads and business operations, this is about giving hope to the country,” said Mekhotak Setsebi, 30, a blanket tied around his shoulders.
He is the head of a small logistics company, but business is bad, he said before voting in Matala, a suburb of Maseru.
The 120-seat parliament is elected under a mixed electoral system – 80 lawmakers are elected by voters, while another 40 seats are distributed proportionally.
About 1.5 million people have registered to vote. In the last elections in 2017, voter turnout was just 47%, but some observers said the number could be higher this year.
- Editor/ main report by AFP