Lesotho: a new era?

Author:Allison, Simon
Position:Current Affairs: LESOTHO

The quaint and peaceful Kingdom of Lesotho has a new leader, after a closely-fought election brought in Pakalitha Mosilili as president. Simon Allison reports from Maseru.

'Lesotho has new leader,' screamed South Africa's The Times, shortly after Pakalitha Mosisili announced himself as head of a new governing coalition in early March. It was a disingenuous headline. If Mosisili has novelty value, then it is only in comparison to Africa's longest ruling presidents. He has already governed Lesotho for 14 years, and this will be his fourth term.

Nonetheless, it's a fresh start for the veteran politician. Mosisili was only unseated at the 2012 polls when Thomas Thabane, his colleague-turned-nemesis, cobbled together a ruling coalition--despite Mosisili winning the popular vote.

Thabane, however, overplayed his hand when he extended his vigorous anti-corruption drive to his coalition partners, ensnaring Deputy Prime Minister and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing in the process last year. Metsing is still fighting the charges in court. Thabane also fell out with the Lesotho Defence Force's leadership, reportedly still loyal to Mosisili, when he tried to install his men.

SADC mediation

The result was a constitutional crisis and protests on the streets of the capital Maseru, with army units occupying police stations and Thabane fleeing for his life into neighbouring South Africa. Under a mandate from the South African Development Community (SADC), South Africa stepped in to calm the situation and mediate a settlement between the warring politicians and security branches. With Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa leading several rounds of talks and the South African Police Services guaranteeing Thabane's personal safety, a deal to hold snap elections was reached.

It was these elections that Mosisili won. Having spent less than three years in opposition, he is back in the top job--which was, analysts suspect, the whole point of the preceding political instability.

Election observer missions from the African Union, led by Raila Odinga, the Commonwealth, led by Festus Mogae, and SADC, led by Make Nkoana-Mashabane, declared the elections free and fair. At 47%, turnout was lower than anticipated and a consequence of the rains which turned election day into a washout in much of the country.

All parties publicly committed to maintaining peace and interactions between rival politicians were jocular as South Africa's deputy president...

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