People in Lesotho are voting in snap elections six months after an alleged coup attempt that set off a political crisis in the small southern African nation. It's hoped the vote will ease tensions between rival factions.
Queues formed outside polling stations as voting got underway across Lesotho on Saturday. An estimated 1.2 million people are registered to vote in the election, which is widely seen as an important step in ending the mountain kingdom's political deadlock.
"I'm so glad today is here," said 56-year-old Peter Matete, who was waiting in line to vote. "I just want to see my country calm and peaceful."
Tensions have been high in the kingdom of Lesotho since last August after soldiers reportedly loyal to the opposition took over the country's police headquarters and surrounded the residence of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Thabane fled to South Africa, alleging he was the target of a coup attempt. He accused his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, of working with the army to oust him - a charge Metsing and the military deny.
Thabane later returned under the protection of South African forces, and negotiations mediated by the Southern African Development Community led to elections being brought forward by two years.
No majority likely
Saturday's election pits Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC) against Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and dozens of other parties. Both parties were part of the shaky coalition that has ruled Lesotho since elections in 2012, but relations deteriorated after Thabane dissolved parliament in June last year to avoid a vote of no-confidence.
Lesotho, a tiny landlocked country of two million inhabitants and bordered on all sides by South Africa, is one of the few countries on the continent to have been governed by coalition rule. Analysts predict no party will win a majority in Saturday's vote, meaning another coalition government is likely.
"I see a scenario of 2012 repeating itself where the parties would have to form alliance and then again form another coalition government," said Dimpho Motsamai, a researcher at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.
Results are expected to emerge on Sunday, but a final tally may not be available until early next week due to the remoteness of some communities.
Lesotho struggles with high unemployment and poverty, and has had several coups since independence from Britain in 1966.
nm/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)