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Ruling Party in Lesotho Takes Early Lead in Election Results


Election officials in the southern African nation of Lesotho are counting the votes from Saturday's parliamentary election. With one-half of the precincts tabulated, the ruling party has won more than one-third of the seats so far, while a new opposition party has won one-fourth of the seats. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

Election officials in Lesotho say vote tabulation is proceeding smoothly from Saturday's polling.

The Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Leshele Thoahlane says voter turnout was lower than expected.

"All of us we thought that because the debate had been robust it would generate the high turnout, but we find that it is relatively low really. It is in the region of 45-46 (percent)," Thoahlane said.

The head of an observer group of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, Denis Kadima, said the balloting was peaceful and orderly.

"The voting on Saturday went quite well," said Kadima. "There were expectations of major hiccups (problems) in terms of voter's roles not containing names of some people who have a voter card, but we saw that was minimal and the materials in most places was distributed on time."

The Lesotho Congress for Democracy of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili faced a major challenge from a new party, the All Basotho Congress. The Congress was created four months ago by the defection of former Communications Minister Tom Thabane and 17 other parliamentarians.

Their departure weakened the governing majority in parliament and caused the prime minister to call early elections.

The new party and more than a dozen smaller opposition parties pledged to fight poverty and the high incidence of AIDS in the country. The vigorous campaign revitalized an electorate that observers said had grown apathetic over the ruling party's political dominance.

Kadima says that no matter who wins, the political landscape in Lesotho has changed.

"The time when there was one dominant party is over. n Because it appeared that whoever would be in the opposition, the opposition will be strongly represented. It means there will be some kind of balance within parliament," Kadima said.

Eighty members of the 120-member parliament are being elected by direct vote. The remaining 40 seats are to be allocated proportionally according to each party's overall results.