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Lesotho Opposition Challenges Election Result - 2002-05-27


With more than half of the votes in Lesotho's parliamentary election counted, the ruling party appears to have a firm lead. But the country's largest opposition party is already challenging the outcome.

Partial results released by the Independent Electoral Commission indicate the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) will retain control of parliament.

Under the new electoral system, 80 of the 120 seats in parliament will be held by individuals who are directly elected in their constituencies. The other 40 seats, known as party seats, will be allocated according to a proportional representation system.

As expected, the LCD has taken almost all the directly elected constituency seats. But it looks likely that the 18 opposition parties will split the 40 party seats among themselves.

The complicated electoral system was designed to give opposition parties a voice in parliament, in order to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted after the 1998 elections when the LCD won every seat but one, despite only getting 60 percent of the popular vote.

But at least one opposition leader is not happy with the way the new system is working. Justin Lekhanya heads the Basotho National Party (BNP). He told reporters he is demanding an audit of the election results, saying "the patterns that the election results form indicate the possibility of a predetermined election result."

Mr. Lekhanya's main complaint appears to be that the ruling LCD has won more than 50 percent of the vote in almost every constituency. That pattern fits with the results of previous elections in 1998 and 1993.

But international and domestic observers alike have indicated they believe the poll was conducted fairly. Voting was peaceful throughout the tiny mountain kingdom, and few serious irregularities have been reported.

"It seems as though all international opinion points to the fact that there was no possibility of cheating during the two days of voting," said Sir James Mitchell, former prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who heads the Commonwealth observer team"

Mr. Mitchell says the opposition party's polling agents should have approached observers or election officials on voting day if they were concerned about irregularities.

Privately, officials from the Independent Electoral Commission have dismissed Mr. Lekhanya's allegations. Onlookers in the capital believe he is simply dissatisfied with his party's showing at the polls.

Mr. Lekhanya is a former military ruler, who governed Lesotho for five years after taking power in a 1986 coup. His questioning of the election's validity raises alarm bells among international and domestic observers alike, especially after the violence of 1998.

Mr. Lekhanya and his party have indicated they may challenge the election results in court, but he urged his supporters to remain calm.

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