Lesotho swears in prime minister after tight election

MASERU (Reuters) – Lesotho’s Pakalitha Mosisili was sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday, two weeks after he formed a coalition government that neighboring South Africa hopes will bring stability after nearly a year of unrest.

Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) ousted former leader Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Congress (ABC) by uniting with smaller parties, forming Lesotho’s second consecutive coalition government after the Feb. 28 election produced no clear winner.

Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili speaks during the 64th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York

The election had to be brought forward by nearly two years after Thabane briefly fled to South Africa in August, when soldiers occupied police headquarters and encircled his palace.

Thabane accused his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing, a member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), of working with the army to oust him, an allegation Metsing and the military denied.

Thabane told thousands of people at the national stadium during Mosisili’s inauguration that he had accepted defeat and it was time to end hostilities.

“Let’s all hold hands and support the new government, serve the people of this country, and let’s all work towards attaining peace, stability and security,” Thabane said.

Analysts were skeptical about the chances of stability in the small landlocked country of 2 million people which has been hit by several coups since independence from Britain in 1966.

“Lesotho is headed for a political train smash – it is just a matter of when,” Gary van Staden, analyst at NKC Economists, said in a research note this week.

“Squabbling parties are fighting for position and power … Amid all of this there are ominous signs that the military is twitching.”

Mosisili earlier told the crowds that he would push ahead with reforms, fix crumbling roads and improve social welfare.

“All that there is to be done is to work towards the economic growth of the country,” he said.

Apart from textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho’s other big earner is water piped to South Africa, making it of strategic importance to Pretoria.

South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has acted as mediator throughout Lesotho’s latest political turmoil.