afrol News, 16 February - 1.8 million voters in the Southern African kingdom of Lesotho go to the polls on Saturday to elect their law makers. It is expected that a newly coined opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC), which is a breakaway party from the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), will sweep the polls. Fears of post-election violence are however looming in the country.
15 political parties have put up candidates for the anticipated polls.
Some political pundits said there could be a repeat of the contested 1998 polls violence that left over 60 people dead, triggered a military intervention of neighbouring states and destroyed many government buildings.
On the road to elections, there were several reported cases of attacks targeting government officials. A parliamentarian of LCD was shot dead at the entrance to his home while, in another incident, a bullet missed a Trade Minister and killed a Dutch relief worker.
Although the electoral campaigns have been violent free, threats on the lives of some people, particularly journalists, have become unbecoming. Threatened journalists fear the return of the LCD to power.
A parliament dissolution by King Leslie III shifted the polls from being taken place in April 2006. But the Saturday polls came at a time when the LCD has been strangled at the centre of criticisms for its inability to fulfil its last election promises, a claim that resulted to mass defections from the party.
The ABC was coined by the former Communications Minister, Thomas Thabane, late last year, after he had cross carpeted from the LCD with 16 other deputies to the opposition bench, saying they were not pleased with the ruling party's policies.
Mr Thabane has been a member of LCD for 53 years. The mass defections have weakened the LCD that afterwards enjoyed only two seats majority in the kingdom's parliament of 120 deputies.
Lesotho's Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, therefore called for a snap polls but the opposition said it was done to stem defections from the ruling party, which has 61 deputies in the outgoing parliament.
Since it had attained independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho had held only four elections, most of them causing turmoil and the first taking place in 1970. That election was annulled by the ex-Premier, Jonathan Leabua. Other elections were marred by disputes and violence, one even prompting a military takeover.
This year, officials of the opposition Basotholand African National Congress (BANC), a party that formerly ruled Lesotho, have sounded the bell that the LCD and the Independent Electoral Commission might have connived to rig the polls.
But this claim was rubbished by Prime Minister Mosisili, who remained upbeat that his party's return to power is a forgone conclusion. He accused some opposition parties of collaborating with foreign bodies purposely to destabilise Lesotho.
Opposition parties are also reported to have fired shots at the electoral commission for not updating the voter registration list on time as well as organise credible elections.
Lesotho operates a bi-camera system, which consists of the Upper and Lower House. While all the 33 members of the mostly powerless Upper House are royal appointees, voters directly elect 80 of the 120 members of the Lower House or National Assembly. The remaining seats are allocated to parties under the proportional representation system. Election laws greatly favour the country's largest party.
Lesotho is a landlocked country where only a quarter of the land is arable. Drought is eminent in the most of the mountainous country, although it exports water to the neighbouring South Africa.
With an estimated 24 percent of adults infected with HIV/AIDS, the global pandemic is also a political issue, with candidates assuring that if elected into office, they would provide anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to the large AIDS community.
Of the 25,000 victims, only 8,000 people living with the virus have access to ARVs. The likes of Mr Thabane are going that they will prioritise the availability of nutritious food to AIDS victims.
The ABC opposition has also scolded the LCD government for not providing infrastructure in the provinces and failed to arrest several back-stabbing problems such as poverty.
The ABC's campaign is premised on the Basotho slogan: "Hunger is the biggest enemy of human being." Its leadership said it is ready to oust hunger through vibrant economic development, rebuilding of local agricultural economy and exports, provision of education for all, amongst others.
On its part, the ruling party officials say they are proud of their 10-year rule, which according to them, had prioritised stability as well as provide free primary school education to all Lesotho children. Also the International Monetary Fund (IMF) repeatedly has praised the economic policies of PM Mosisili, even at times when many Basotho were dying of hunger during the last drought.
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