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Thousands of people vote in the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho

MASERU, Lesotho — Thousands of Lesotho voters are casting their ballots in the country’s general elections.

The elections are a close race between the top three parties out of a field of over 60 registered political parties.

Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu of the Democratic Congress Party is running against his current coalition partner Nkaku Kabi of the All Basotho Convention and businessman-turned-politician Sam Matekane of the Prosperity Revolution.

Friday has been declared a public holiday to encourage voting in the small mountainous kingdom of 2.1 million people. The country is entirely surrounded by South Africa.

King Letsie III of Lesotho presides over a constitutional monarchy but has virtually no political power. Whichever party wins enough representatives in Lesotho’s 120-seat National Assembly to form a government will select the new prime minister. With so many parties vying for the election, a coalition is highly likely, experts say.

At a polling station in Thetsane, an industrial area of ​​the capital Maseru, a mix of old people, women and young people lined up as voting got off to a slow start after polls opened at 7 a.m. .

Many voters told The Associated Press they hoped the election of new leaders would bring change as the country faces high employment levels, rising crime and political instability.

Tseliso Seutlwadi, 32, unemployed, was among the first to vote.

“We need change and it will only be brought about by us through our votes. Basically, unemployment is too high in this country. We have university degrees, but we know that only 10% of people are hired. What happens to the rest? asked Seutlwadi.

He said many people had lost their jobs in factories during the COVID-19 pandemic and some had turned to crime and prostitution to make a living.

“As young people, we want to have an impact on the future of this country. We see factories closing, rapes against women increasing, we need to stand up as young people and influence what happens in this country,” said Ntsoaki Lenea, 37.

The garment industry is Lesotho’s largest employer after the government and had over 45,500 garment workers at the start of 2020, but around 25% of those jobs have been lost during the pandemic, according to official statistics.

About 320,000 people in Lesotho are currently experiencing a severe food “crisis” and are in urgent need of assistance “to save lives, reduce food shortages, protect and restore livelihoods and prevent acute malnutrition”, according to the classification. integrated phases of food security.

Election observers from the European Union, the Commonwealth, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community are in Lesotho to assess the electoral process.

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