Lesotho heading for coalition government

Lesotho appeared to be heading for a coalition government on Monday following a snap parliamentary election aimed at bringing stability to the tiny southern African kingdom following an alleged coup attempt.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's party were in the lead with 95 percent of constituencies reporting after Saturday's voting, the electoral commission said.

But results from isolated rural areas narrowed his early lead, making it likely the country would have another coalition.

The African Union described the election as "peaceful" but noted continuing security concerns in the wake of the failed coup in August last year which prompted Thabane to flee to South Africa.

The prime minister's All Basotho Convention (ABC) party held 40 seats with counting nearly complete Monday, followed by its closest rival -- the Democratic Congress (DC) of former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili -- with 33.

The Lesotho Congress for Democracy of Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, whose differences with Thabane fractured the outgoing coalition, had two seats.

Lesotho has a mixed parliamentary system. Eighty lawmakers are voted into power by constituents, while another 40 seats are distributed proportionally after the final tally to ensure all parties are represented.

A party needs 61 of the 120 seats available to rule without being forced into a coalition.

Completely landlocked by South Africa, Lesotho is one of the world's poorest countries and its economy is heavily dependent on its larger neighbour, to whom it exports water and hydroelectric power.

The political situation has been deteriorating since June after the prime minister suspended parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence that would likely have seen him ousted from power.

In the last fragile coalition government, the ABC did not hold the majority of seats in parliament, but outmanoeuvered the winning DC by teaming up with several smaller parties, including the LCD -- which has since rescinded its allegiance.

And with the preliminary results pointing once again to coalition, analysts have warned of history repeating itself.

"In a few months' time, we could be exactly where we are now as a result of the failure of the first coalition," said Tsoeu Petlane, director of the Maseru-based Transformation Resource Centre.

The final results with the extra allocated seats are expected Wednesday.

The major parties will then have two weeks to woo their smaller counterparts in the hope of forming a majority and with it, take control of the national assembly.

Observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said laws and policies governing coalition governments in Lesotho needed to be reviewed.

"We think this time around, whatever the outcome, the government should be better able to deal with the issues ahead," said South Africa's Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who headed the observer mission.

"The elections were peaceful and transparent," said Raila Odinga, the former Kenyan prime minister who is in charge of the AU observer mission to Lesotho.

But he warned: "The relationship between the army and the police is marked by tension despite the signing of an accord between these two agencies."

Lesotho's already tense political atmosphere was further plunged into crisis when soldiers attacked police headquarters in August 2014, looting weapons and killing one officer.

The prime minister described the violence as a coup attempt fuelled by the opposition and temporarily moved to neighbouring South Africa, but both the military and the opposition denied any bid to seize power.

The army was confined to barracks for the election, while the regional bloc SADC deployed 475 police officers to provide security.

The military has frequently been used as a political tool in Lesotho's past -- and Odinga recognised the safety concerns of the judiciary that would have to rule on any electoral disputes.

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