JOHANNESBURG – The politician who led Lesotho for the last 14 years could soon be leading the opposition after his party failed to win a majority in parliament in weekend elections in this mountainous southern African country.
A day after Pakalitha Mosisili resigned as prime minister, Lincoln Ralechate Mokose, the secretary general of his Democratic Congress Party, said in a telephone interview Thursday that his party was seeking partners for a governing coalition.
"We will either succeed or fail," he said. If the party fails, "our stand is to concede and work in parliament as opposition."
The party secured 48 of parliament's 120 seats during elections Saturday, more than any other party but not enough to govern alone.
Shortly before Saturday's election, Mosisili broke away from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, which had been riven by an internal power struggle, and formed the Democratic Congress Party.
Mosili's old party finished third in the election and is now trying to form a coalition government with the All Basotho Convention, which finished second. Between them, the two parties have 56 seats in parliament and are courting smaller parties to have a majority.
Election observers praised Lesotho's voting as largely free and fair. Lesotho was calm during the two days it took to complete the vote count and as opposition parties began negotiations that shut out Mosisili.
That contrasted with the turmoil when Mosisili first took power in 1998, then as head of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy. Opposition parties rejected the results of the 1998 vote, leading to violent protests, an army mutiny and finally a military intervention by South Africa that saw much of the capital, Maseru, torched and looted.
Subsequent electoral reforms were meant to give a greater voice to the opposition but despite them, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy under Mosisili won elections in 2002 and 2007.
Thabaso Litsiba, secretary general of the All Basotho Convention, said in an interview that it may be next week before parliament meets and a new prime minister is chosen. It was likely to be Thomas Thabane, head of Litsiba's party.
A coalition government — a first-time experiment for Lesotho — may prove unwieldy, particularly if Mosisili in opposition proves disciplined. Thabane may struggle to keep not only members of his own party in line, but also those of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and of the other smaller parties he will need to get legislation approved.
A smooth transfer of power from one party is increasingly becoming the norm in sub-Saharan Africa, despite setbacks like a coup this year in Guinea-Bissau and another in Mali that was followed by the splintering of that country.
— In March, Senegal lived up to its reputation as one of Africa's established democracies as incumbent Abdoulaye Wade, who had served two terms, conceded defeat in a presidential race.
— In Malawi in April, after the president died suddenly in office, there was a delay in the official announcement of the death, leading to speculation that politicians were squabbling over succession. But in the end, the vice president took office, becoming the first woman president in southern Africa. Malawians congratulated themselves that their constitution and democratic order had prevailed.
— In Zambia late last year, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy party conceded defeat after 20 years in power.
Former Malawi President Bakili Muluzi, speaking Thursday from Lesotho's capital where he was leading a Commonwealth election observer mission, said he believes Africa is moving forward.
"We chose democracy in Africa," he said. "And we should allow democracy to prevail."
In the first decades after independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho's military and its king repeatedly meddled in politics, weakening democracy. The king is now considered merely a figurehead.