February 27, 2015 / 12:27 PM / in 3 years

Lesotho prepares for early vote in bid to ease political crisis

MASERU (Reuters) - Feuding parties in Lesotho’s ruling coalition will face off on Saturday in early national elections staged in a bid to restore stability six months after an attempted coup.

Lesotho's Prime Minister and leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) Thomas Thabane (C, yellow top) waves to his supporters during his walkabout in the capital Maseru February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The vote is being held about two years ahead of schedule under a political deal brokered by South Africa, which surrounds the mountainous kingdom.

Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane briefly fled to South Africa in August after soldiers occupied police headquarters and encircled his palace.

Thabane accused his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing of working with the army to oust him, an allegation Metsing and the military dismissed.

Campaigning has been largely peaceful but analysts say tensions are high before the parliamentary vote that will pit Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) against Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), alongside other parties.

“The idea of these elections is to try a solve a crisis but I think they might perpetuate one,” said Gary Staden, a political analyst at NKC Independent Economists.

“My concern is any mess up like failure to deliver ballot papers is going to be interpreted as someone trying to rig the election and that could set off an unrest,” he added.

Commentators have been reluctant to call a winner in the absence of reliable opinion polls.

Metsing told Reuters he expected another coalition government made up of LDC and a smaller rival, the Democratic Congress (DC) party. “They are our natural ally and they are the ones we’re going to form a coalition government with,” he said.

Metsing, who has promised faster economic growth to create jobs, said the most pressing issue was peace and stability.

There was little sign of optimism on the streets of the capital.

“Why bother voting? I am not going to waste my time to vote because this election is all about Thabane and Metsing. It has nothing to do with what we want as voters,” said Dineo Motlou, a 22-year supermarket sales assistant.

Thabane, 77, said his main priority was to restore order.

“The nation needs stabilization,” he told Reuters. “We as politicians have destabilized communities by causing divisions among the people.”

Relations have been stormy between ABC and LCD, which have both been ruling the country since 2012, since Thabane dissolved parliament in June to avoid a no-confidence vote.

Post-election unrest could further erode confidence in the $2.3 billion economy, which is forecast to expand by nearly 5 percent this year.

Writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by James Macharia and Tom Heneghan

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