The Southern African Development Community has sent its electoral observer mission to Lesotho before February 28 elections. An attempted coup in August last year prompted the regional bloc to bring elections forward by two years in order to restore stability in the landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa.
Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was forced into exile in August last year when a military faction attempted to topple his government. Thabane presided over a coalition government - the first of its kind in the country’s history, but one that was a product of political necessity in 2012 when elections failed to produce a clear winner.
Thabane accused Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing of propelling the coup attempt with army commander Tlali Kamoli, allegations that have been hotly denied by Metsing and the army.
The Southern African Development Community, comprising 15 Southern African nations, deployed a mission last year to restore peace and facilitate dialogue. Following negotiations, fronted by South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Lesotho’s coalition government agreed to call a snap election for the end of this month.
South Africa’s minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is heading the SADC election observer mission (SEOM), said Wednesday observers would be deployed in all 10 districts of Lesotho and remain until the results are concluded.
“The priority of SADC is always to ensure that the elections that take place in the region observe the SADC protocol on the running of democratic elections and to ensure the environment is peaceful and conducive so that ... the will of the people is expressed,” stated Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the minister.
The election is happening against a backdrop of political violence that has plagued Lesotho during its nearly 50 years of independence.
A deadly shootout in the capital, Maseru, on February 1 saw two of the prime minister’s bodyguards and members of the Lesotho Defense Force wounded outside the gate of King Letsie III’s royal palace. A private security guard was killed in the crossfire.
The latest eruption of violence suggests little has been done to address the tense relations between the army and the police. Both forces have become highly politicized by the country’s opposing leaders Mr Thabane, who is supported by the police, and his deputy Metsing, who has the loyalty of the army.
South Africa’s deputy president concluded a visit to the mountainous kingdom last week as part of on-going facilitation efforts. His spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa spoke to VOA news.
“At this stage, there is no reason to be overly concerned about any possible violence. From the perspective of the facilitation mission, the deputy president has expressed confidence and satisfaction regarding the preparedness of the elections,” said Mamoepa.
A directive from the SADC mission said that the Lesotho Defense Force would be confined to its barracks on election day.