The southern African mountain kingdom of Lesotho holds a snap election on Saturday, with experts predicting another fractious coalition government, unlikely to tackle its dire levels of HIV-Aids and unemployment.
The vote is the third general election since 2012 in the country known as Africa’s Switzerland where years of political in-fighting have stymied attempts to fight poverty.
Lesotho, with a population of about two million people, is surrounded by South Africa, which relies on it for essential water supplies to Johannesburg and other cities.
Parliament was dissolved in March when Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a vote of no confidence after his seven-party coalition government broke up within two years of being formed.
His predecessor, Thomas Thabane, came to power in 2012 but fled to South Africa in 2014 following an attempted putsch by the army.
That crisis led to early elections in 2015.
Mosisili and Thabane are again the leading candidates to emerge from complex post-vote negotiations to become the next prime minister.
“A coalition is the most likely outcome, but it is unlikely to be a successful one,” Charles Fogelman, a specialist on Lesotho politics at the University of Illinois, said.
“Both of the previous coalitions have collapsed under the weight of succession and power battles, and it is hard to imagine future coalitions not doing the same.”
Mosisili’s party, the Democratic Congress (DC), is forecast to ally with the Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) and the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD). Thabane’s party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), and the Alliance Democrats (AD) of Monyane Moleleki, a former minister of police, are also vying to form a possible coalition government.
Thabane, who said his life was in danger when he fled in 2014, returned to Lesotho in February.
“Some soldiers plotted to kill me at the instruction of Prime Minister Mosisili...but now I am back and ready to take over government powers,” Thabane told supporters at his final election rally.
Mosisili used his own final rally to accuse Thabane of running away to seek foreign protection and of “chowing through the public’s money while sitting there doing nothing.”
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Letsie III, who has no formal power, and it has a mixed parliamentary system.
Eighty lawmakers are voted in by constituents, while another 40 seats are distributed proportionally. A party needs more than 61 of the 120 seats available to rule without being forced into a coalition.
Reflecting frustration at the country’s politics, voter turnout has declined sharply from 66 per cent in 2002 to just 46 per cent in 2015.
Analysts like Fogelman have called for electoral reforms to boost support for democracy and to avoid ill-fated coalition governments that survive only a few years.
The 2014 attempted coup against Thabane was allegedly led by army chief Tlali Kamoli.
Soldiers attacked police headquarters, looted weapons and killed one officer.
There were successful coups in 1986 and 1991.
Motlamelle Kapa, a political analyst at the National University of Lesotho, said that politics were being undermined by the security forces.
“There needs to be a total depoliticisation of the security agencies, which are often used to fight political battles,” Kapa said.
“The security forces are at the core of the country’s political challenges.
They tend to side with individuals.”
South Africa is often criticised for allegedly interfering in Lesotho, which gained independence from Britain in 1966.
The country, which suffers a 22.7 percent adult HIV rate, exports textiles but many citizens seek work in South Africa.
Lesotho citizens, known as Basotho, are famed for their horse-riding skills, and many people in rural areas use ponies as their daily mode of transport.