Voting ends in Lesotho elections with high turnout

By Africa News
Published February 17th 2007 in Africa News

Maseru, Lesotho - Voting in general elections in the Southern African kingdom of Lesotho ended Saturday with initial reports of a high turnout, pitting the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy against a new party formed from within its ranks.

While no estimates of turnout were immediately available, long queues from early morning outside polling stations pointed to a higher-than-usual voter participation rate.

'The turnout has been good so far, very good,' Khotatso Ralitsie, Director of Elections at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa around lunchtime.

The IEC reported 'hiccups' in some places, with some people unable to find their preferred party on the party list and some materials, such as ink, arriving late.

These are the fifth elections in Lesotho since independence from Britain in 1966 and the second to use the Mixed Member Representation (MMR) electoral system.

Accordingly, 80 MPs out of the 120-member parliament are chosen from constituency lists in a 'first past the post system' and the remaining 40 from a party list using proportional representation.

It was first used in 2002 general elections to provide greater representation for smaller parties, but the two biggest parties - the LCD of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and the main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) of Thomas Thabane - were absent from the party list Saturday, causing confusion among voters.

To maximise their final tally, the LCD and the ABC had urged their supporters to instead tick the box of their allies - the National Independent Party and the Lesotho Workers Party respectively.

The snap 90-day election, called after former communications minister Thabane quit the LCD late last year with 16 fellow deputies, was billed from the outset as a two-horse LCD-ABC affair.

A total of 19 parties are contesting the poll. Around 920,000 people out of a population of about 1.8 million people were registered to vote in 80 constituencies in 10 districts.

A strong turnout is expected to favour the ABC, which is popular among younger voters disillusioned by the development issues dogging the country.

The LCD has a loyal following among rural and senior voters but in one rural constituency, an LCD deputy was worried.

'I could be in trouble,' Selomi Monyane, an elderly LCD deputy, who is seeking re-election in Peka constituency, told dpa outside a polling station, where women were using huge umbrellas to shield themselves from the scorching sun.

Thabane has promised a more efficient use of resources to fight poverty, food insecurity, raise pensions and improve infrastructure.

At LEC Primary School north of Maseru near Teyateyaneng 26-year-old Bakuena Korie was voting for the first time - for ABC.

'Before I didn't know who to vote for but now we need a change,' he said.

The government has refuted the ABC's accusations of growing alienation from voters, pointing to expected economic growth of 3.5 per cent in 2007 and the introduction of free primary schooling for children.

The third-largest contender is the Basotho National Party, previously the official opposition party that has been relegated to possible coalition partner status by the emergence of the ABC.

The poll is being monitored by dozens of election observers from from the United States, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and various EU diplomatic missions.

Lesotho is one of the world's poorest countries dependent on subsistence agriculture and remittances from the large number of its citizens working in South Africa.

Half of the population lives on 2 dollars a day or less and around 30 per cent have contracted HIV/AIDS.

The country has a tumultous reputation when it comes to elections. More than 60 people were killed and large parts of the capital Maseru razed to the ground in rioting following disputed 1998 elections.