MASERU, Lesotho (AP) — Thousands of voters in Lesotho are casting their ballots in the country’s general elections.
The elections are a tight race between the top three parties out of a field of more than 60 registered political parties.
Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu of the Democratic Congress party is running against his current coalition partner Nkaku Kabi of the All Basotho Convention and businessman-turned-politician Sam Matekane of the Revolution for Prosperity.
Friday has been declared a public holiday to encourage voting in the tiny mountainous kingdom of 2.1 million people. The country is entirely surrounded by South Africa.
Lesotho’s King Letsie III presides over a constitutional monarchy but has virtually no political power. Whichever party wins enough representatives in Lesotho’s 120-seat National Assembly to form a government will select the new prime minister. With so many parties contesting the election, a coalition is very likely, say experts.
At a polling station in Thetsane, an industrial area of the capital Maseru, a mix of elderly, women and young people waited in line as voting got off to a slow start after polls opened at 7 a.m.
Many voters told The Associated Press that they hoped the election of new leaders would bring change as the country is facing high levels of employment, increasing crime and political instability.
Tseliso Seutlwadi, 32, who is unemployed was among the first to vote.
“We need a change and it will only be brought by us through our votes. Basically unemployment is too high in this country. We have university degrees but we know that only 10% of people get hired. What happens to the rest?” asked Seutlwadi.
He said taht many people had lost jobs at the factories during the COVID-19 pandemic and some had turned to crime and prostitution to make a living.
“As young people we want to have an impact on the future of this country. We can see factories closing down, rape against women is on the rise, we have to stand up as young people and influence what happens in this country,” said 37-year-old Ntsoaki Lenea.
The garment-making industry is Lesotho’s largest employer after the government and had more than 45,500 textile workers at the beginning of 2020, but about 25% of those jobs were lost during the pandemic, according to official statistics.
About 320,000 people in Lesotho are currently experiencing a severe food “crisis” and are in urgent need of aid “to save lives, reduce food gaps, protect and restore livelihoods and prevent acute malnutrition,” according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.
Election observers from the European Union, the Commonwealth, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community are in Lesotho to assess the electoral process.