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Turnout High in Lesotho Parliamentary Elections

Voters in the southern African nation of Lesotho are electing a new parliament. Turn-out was reportedly high due to a major challenge from a new party led by a former minister and 17 parliamentarians who defected from the ruling party. VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

Voters in Lesotho went early to the polls Saturday to choose a new parliament.

The head of the Council of NGO's observer group, Seabata Motsamai, said by telephone that participation was enthusiastic.

"The voter turnout is high, really. As we can see, they choose across the country," he said.

He said some polling centers opened late because of delays in delivering ballot materials, but otherwise voting was orderly and virtually without incident.

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili called the early elections in November after 18 members of his party, led by former Communications Minister Tom Thabane, defected to form the All Basotho Convention.

The prime minister's Lesotho Congress for Democracy is facing a major challenge from the new party, which is promising to fight poverty and the high incidence of AIDS in the country.

The head of the Catholic Bishops Conference observer group, Tsebo Matsasa, says the snap elections posed problems for election organizers.

"The voter registration was quite shorter, which is one of the issues that has been a setback in this election," he said.

But he added that the Electoral Commission held a series of meetings in which the various parties reached agreement on most issues.

Thabane's populist campaign has appealed to young people and urban voters, who say they want change. However, the prime minister's party is said to enjoy support among older people and rural populations.

More than 900,000 citizens are registered to vote in this fourth round of elections since independence 40 years ago.

Elections in 1998 were marred by violence, which was only quelled after the arrival of troops from South Africa and Botswana. However, subsequent elections in 2002 were peaceful and judged to be fair.