Polls have closed in Lesotho where voters some draped in traditional shepherd's blankets walked for miles to cast their ballots on Friday in parliamentary elections.
Polls remained open until 3:00 p.m. GMT, and counting began immediately after the polls closed. The wait often lasted for hours under a harsh sun in the 80 or so constituencies of the country of 2.2 million people, which is landlocked in South Africa.
In schools or tents set up on the grass, the equipment was mostly rudimentary: a table, sealed plastic boxes as ballot boxes and cardboard booths, all under the eye of many international observers.
A new head of government will be appointed after the elections, but this will not necessarily end the long-standing political instability in this constitutional monarchy marked by a succession of coups and forced exiles, and where King Letsie III has no power.
"The next prime minister will improve our lives and give us better conditions, I am sure," Mamete Potsane, 74, wearing a flowery knit and a pair of sneakers, told AFP.
The thumb raised, this widow who lives with 800 malotis per month (45 euros), leaves confidently the polling station installed at the foot of the mount Qiloane (west), cradle of the Sotho nation, the main ethnic group of the country, nicknamed "the kingdom in the sky".
"We don't hope for anything more," said Mpho Mochaka, 26, who did not go to vote. On the edge of the main artery of Maseru, the sleepy capital, she sells tired apples and single cigarettes from a makeshift stall.
- Flammable mixtures -
The former British protectorate, independent since 1966, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Unemployment stands at 22.5% and more than 30% of the population lives below the international poverty line, according to the World Bank.
More than fifty parties were in the running. But the political landscape is dominated by two movements: the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC).
Over the past decade, no party has won an absolute majority at the ballot box, and coalition governments have come and gone, marred by frequent changes of heart and splits.
"Coalitions are a source of instability because they are based on alliances between parties without a common political base, forming a loose mix that can catch fire at any time," says Seroala Tsoeu-Ntokoane, a professor of politics at the National University of Lesotho.
The current Prime Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, 60, who has been in office only since 2020, did not seek a mandate. He succeeded Thomas Thabane, 83, who was forced to resign and accused of ordering the murder of his first wife, with whom he was divorcing. The charges were dropped in July.
Nkaku Kabi, 49, the candidate of the majority ABC, said he was counting on a "landslide" victory. The DC is represented by Mathibeli Mokhothu.
But the candidacy of a businessman, Sam Matekane, 64, could surprise the traditional parties when the results come in. The millionaire, who made his fortune in diamond mining and is considered the richest man in the country, told AFP that his ambition is to "save the country.
In 2017, only 47% of the registered voters had voted. The ABC won 48 seats out of 120, ahead of the DC with 30 MPs. Two thirds of the deputies are elected by majority vote, the remaining third by proportional representation.
Final election results are not expected to be announced until next week.