World

Tiny Lesotho votes in latest test of fragile democracy

People in mountainous Lesotho, some wrapped in blankets to ward off the cold, voted in national elections on Saturday amid concerns about chronic political instability in the southern African country.

In a typical scene in rural areas, voters lined up with their identity cards outside a polling station in a tent in the central town of Semonkong. Analysts believe the results, which could take days to count, will likely lead to the formation of another fragile governing coalition.

Elections were called after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, whose coalition took power in 2015, lost a no-confidence vote in parliament in March. Mosisili's main rival is former ally and predecessor Tom Thabane, who fled to South Africa in 2014, saying soldiers planned to assassinate him as part of a coup attempt.

South Africa, whose territory surrounds Lesotho, has played a leading role in mediating among factions in the nation of two million people. Mediators had recommended the dismissal of the military chief, Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, and Mosisili eventually fired him last year.

The opposition has alleged that the military is sympathetic to Mosisili's Democratic Congress party and its coalition partners, and hostile to the All Basotho Congress party of Thabane. The military denies any intention to intervene if Mosisili loses the election, the Lesotho Times newspaper reported.

Two dozen political parties were contesting the elections, with 120 parliamentary seats at stake. It was the third vote in Lesotho since 2012, reflecting instability that critics say has undermined efforts to address problems including unemployment and one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world.

Lesotho is a critical source of water for parched South Africa, and many of its citizens seek employment in mines and other industries there. Lesotho's king, Letsie III, has a ceremonial role that included calling for Saturday's elections.