Tiny Lesotho votes on Saturday in the most hotly contested election since Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili came to power in a 1998 vote that sparked rioting and a South African military intervention. After 14 years in power, Mosisili has established himself as a towering figure in this mountainous kingdom, bordered on all sides by South Africa, the regional powerhouse that dominates the enclave’s economy. He’s stayed in power through elections consistently endorsed by observers, even though Lesotho’s political disputes sometimes erupt in violence. Mosisili survived a 2009 military-style assault on his official residence that left four people dead. Eight people are standing trial, and the precise motives remain unclear. But signs of discontent with his rule are everywhere.
A Gallup poll released last month ranked Mosisili among Africa’s five most despised leaders, with only 39% of those surveyed approving of his job performance – placing him alongside the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. “There is an atmosphere of change, but it is predominantly in the urban centres, which is in the minority in terms of the way our constituencies are demarcated,” said Hoolo Nyane, director of the Transformation Resource Centre, a leading civil society group.
Within the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, which he brought to power in 1998, efforts to push him from the top spot provoked a dramatic split in February as he resigned from the party and launched his own Democratic Congress, taking a majority of parliamentarians with him.
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