MASERU, LESOTHO —
Lesotho will choose a new National Assembly and its next prime minister on Saturday. The poll is being called more than two years early to restore stability after an attempted coup in August.
Lesotho holds elections on Saturday with the hope they will restore stability after an attempted coup saw Prime Minister Thomas Thabane flee the landlocked kingdom in August.
Prime Minister Thabane presides over a coalition government that includes his party, the All Basotho Congress (ABC), the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Mothetjoa Metsing, and the Basotho National Party (BNP).
The tripartite coalition buckled when Thabane declared a 10-month suspension of parliament in June, widely seen as an attempt to prevent the opposition from passing a no-confidence motion that would oust him from power.
The alleged coup attempt took place in August after Thabane sought to replace the army’s top commander, who is seen as an ally of Metsing.
Speaking to VOA, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing said Thabane’s “meddling” with the army contributed to the political crisis but he denies there was ever a coup.
“There was no coup. Was there any new prime minister or anyone who has claimed to the prime minister? No such thing happened…I know it was all over the show, people saying it was an attempted coup…There was no such attempt,” he stated.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered an agreement with the coalition parties -- ending the suspension of parliament and paving the way for this snap election.
Thabane is jostling for the top seat alongside other favorites including former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili from the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) and Metsing.
An indecisive vote is likely, leading most of the top candidates to look for allies. For elections, Lesotho uses the mixed member proportional representation model (MMP), which is a combination of first-past-the-post and proportional representation and is a system highly susceptible to producing hung parliaments.
Metsing, from the LCD, said the 2012 coalition with Thabane’s party was a mistake but the next coalition government is likely to be more successful with a different political partner.
“Immediately after our relations soured with ABC, we approached DC and we agreed to work together," said Metsing. "We should not have gone into coalition with ABC because we differed with ABC on so many issues, our natural ally was supposed to be DC but it was only the personality issues that made us plead…today we are aware that we made mistakes. There are certain things that are bigger than the country."
Small and mountainous, Lesotho is surrounded on all sides by South Africa and relies on its neighbor for most of its economic activity. Lesotho imports 90 percent of the goods it consumes from South Africa, including most agricultural inputs.
Metsing said Lesotho needs to develop its manufacturing capability to reduce its dependence on South Africa and create jobs. “We would like to see Lesotho being pulled out of one of the least developed countries. We would like to ensure that we can grow the economy. We would address aggressively the issue of youth unemployment because I think that it is a time bomb waiting to explode," he stated. "We have always been having these political problems at home, but eventually but if you don't address the issues of the youth, we think that will be one the most complex things we will have to deal with going forward.”
The former British protectorate won independence in 1966 but has been rocked by political turbulence ever since. If elected, Metsing said stabilizing the region will be a priority. “We need the people in Lesotho to feel peace and to feel secure. We need to bring back the confidence of the investors, that is our main target and that will happen if people can feel secure in this country. Give us peace, give us security that is the priority,” he added.
Twenty-three parties will contest in the election on Saturday.