Lesotho’s former prime minister Thomas Thabane takes an early lead in the Lesotho election. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Maseru – Former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was on Sunday night leading the race to become Lesotho’s next leader after fraught weekend elections in which the outgoing government deployed soldiers at polling stations, a move widely condemned by the opposition and the country’s electoral body, which had not sanctioned it, as an attempt to intimidate voters.

The perennially unstable kingdom, wholly surrounded by South Africa, held snap elections at the weekend, its third in five years, after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a no confidence vote in Parliament on March 1 2017, and responded by dissolving Parliament and calling for fresh elections.

Official Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) tallies showed former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) leading with 26 in the 80 directly contested constituencies by last night when announcement of results was adjourned.

Another 40 constituencies will be allocated on a proportional representation basis in the 120 member Parliament.

For Thabane to win the right to form a new government, he would have to win at least 61 of all seats, directly contested and proportional representation.

The process of tallying votes will only be completed by end of Monday or on Tuesday at the very latest.

Lesotho has been in turmoil since renegade former army commander Tlali Kennedy Kamoli launched a coup attempt against then Prime Minister Thabane in August 2014.

Thabane fled to South Africa and only returned under the heavy guard of the South African Police Service (SAPS).

Thabane had earlier ousted long time ruler Mosisili in elections held in early 2012.

After the August 2014 coup attempt and after the collapse of his coalition with his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), fresh elections were called for February 2015.

Thabane narrowly lost those elections and Mosisili won back power after Metsing crossed over to join Mosisili in a new coalition government.

But that coalition collapsed after Mosisili’s deputy in his Democratic Congress (DC) party, Monyake Moleleki, defected with a number of sitting DC MPs and joined Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) in passing a no confidence vote against Mosisili in March 2017.

Moleleki subsequently formed the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which is doing badly in the current snap elections, but which may still clinch a few seats to enable Thabane to form a new coalition government if he fails to win outright.

Instead of stepping down as per the no confidence motion, Mosisili resorted to a draconian law which empowers any sitting prime minister to override a no confidence motion by dissolving Parliament and calling for fresh elections.

If Thabane’s lead holds, it means he will be returning to power as PM, mostly likely at the head of another coalition.

Saturday’s elections were marred by the deployment of the army at polling stations, a move opposition parties and the IEC saw as an effort by Mosisili to intimidate voters. Never before has the army been deployed at polling stations.

The army’s participation in the elections was likely to cause major ructions if the opposition, led by Thabane, ends up losing the elections.

Lesotho is a perennially unstable Kingdom because of the historical role of its army, which takes sides with politicians, and has been responsible for various coups.

A commission of inquiry established by SADC in the wake of the August 2014 attempted coup and the killing of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, a Thabane ally, had recommended a rafter of security and political reforms to restore long-lasting stability in Lesotho. The reforms are yet to be implemented.

Independent Foreign Service