Election officials in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho on Sunday investigated why armed soldiers had been deployed at many polling stations on voting day. The army has often been accused of interfering in politics in Lesotho, a landlocked African country of two million people that has been hit by attempted coups and instability in recent years. “The nation, the voters and even the observers were surprised… they felt that some voters were intimidated,” Independent Electoral Commission spokesperson Tuoe Hantsi told reporters. “The law dictates who should be at the polling stations, and (the soldiers) caused confusion.”
Articles about voting issues in the Kingdom of Lesotho.
People in Lesotho voted in a national election on Saturday just two years after the previous one as the Southern African kingdom struggles with political instability. The nation of 2 million people has been hit by several coups since independence from Britain in 1966 and army troops were on duty until the polls closed at 1500 GMT on Saturday. Election officials expect results to start trickling in early on Sunday. King Letsie III has been head of state of the landlocked country, which is surrounded by South Africa, since independence from Britain in 1996. But political leadership has been volatile in recent years with the last two elections failing to produce a winner with a clear majority.
While the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced determination to deliver a credible election and that they remain on course and faithful to their calendar, extra-mural events pose a serious threat to a free and fairly run electoral process. The electoral body has voiced concern over forecast weather patterns in the country, with citizens put on high alert for the week preceding, during and after elections, due to extreme weather conditions predicted over polling day.
Lesotho has experienced political instability for the past four decades and the country has pinned its hope on this year’s election to end the turmoil. In March this year, the country was plunged into a fresh political crisis after Parliament passed a vote of no-confidence on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and later dissolved. Two years ago, the Kingdom of Lesotho was again in crisis following the ouster of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Congress.
In Africa’s year of elections, with democracy in retreat in many parts of the continent, Lesotho is a pygmy beside giants like Nigeria and other larger nations facing votes. But many observers are watching the small mountain nation as it heads to the polls Saturday, one of just a handful of African countries that in the past has seen a peaceful democratic handover of power from one party to another. Lesotho’s democratic credentials are in question after an attempted coup in August forced Prime Minister Tom Thabane to flee the country. Saturday’s balloting is supposed to resolve the crisis, if friction between political opponents and rival branches of the security forces doesn’t derail the process. Among the other countries facing elections this year are Sudan, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mali, Burkino Faso, Burundi, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Guinea, Central African Republic, Togo and Mauritius.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Lesotho says a cross section of citizens will participate in planned advance voting on Saturday ahead of the February 28 general election. Lesotho’s electoral law stipulates that security forces, nurses, media houses, embassy officials and officers from the electoral commission who will be on duty on election day, are permitted to vote ahead of a scheduled general election. Tuoe Hantsi, spokesman for the electoral body, says the IEC is ready to administer a transparent and credible election. “The [IEC] is so ready. All is in place. The materials have been sent to the stations where the voting is going to take place. The main one on the 28th,” said Hantsi. “The politicians all stakeholders are now together and would see to it that we are having a successful election on the 28th.”
In the first few months after Lesotho’s crisis in August, much of the blame was pinned on the aggression of the country’s military commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. But now, just days before the kingdom’s February 28 election aimed at resolving the impasse, there are indications that Prime Minister Tom Thabane may have an entire rogue military on his hands. The August 30 coup attempt saw Lesotho Defence Force soldiers chase Thabane from his official residence across the South African border. Simultaneously, troops attacked three police stations, killing one officer and injuring nine others. For South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the lead mediator in the crisis for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a crowning achievement came in November when he exiled Kamoli from Lesotho.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was happy with preparations ahead of Lesotho’s elections scheduled for February 28, his spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said on his return to South Africa on Saturday. Ramaphosa was visiting in his capacity as SA Development Community-appointed facilitator after an attempted coup in August which led to prime minister Tom Thabane fleeing for South Africa. Mamoepa said the latest visit included meetings with King Letsie III, representatives of the coalition government namely Thabane of the All Basuthu Convention (ABC), deputy prime minister Mothejoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and minister of gender and youth, sports and recreation Thesele Maseribane of the Basutho Nationa Party . Besides the coalition partners, he also met representatives of the non-governmental organisation sector, church leaders, and chiefs of security agencies the Lesotho Defence Force and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.
Lesotho will go ahead with early elections as planned at the end of this month despite recent renewed tensions, South Africa’s presidency announced at the end of crisis talks with the kingdom’s premier on Monday. “The meeting expressed its confidence that the climate for the holding of elections on 28 February remains on course,” President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement. Zuma hosted the Monday talks in his capacity as chairperson of the peace and security section of the regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC). The talks were attended by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and top officials from his troubled coalition government.
Two soldiers have been wounded and a private security guard killed during a shooting outside the presidential palace gates in Lesotho, adding to an already tense political climate ahead of elections later this month, an official said Monday. The two soldiers were attacked on Sunday by “renegade” soldiers who wanted to destabilize Lesotho ahead of the Feb. 28 elections, Thabo Thakalekoala, the prime minister’s press secretary said.