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Democracy 101: tiny Lesotho holds peaceful election

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“If a sitting government actually leaves office gracefully, this will be a first for southern Africa,” says Nqosa Mahao, a coalition-government expert at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, who advised the major parties here prior to the May 26 elections. “It will put Lesotho on the map for its democratic credentials – and set a tone for the rest of the region.”

Setbacks in African elections -- notably the four-month civil war in Cote D'Ivoire in 2010, after the losing President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down -- have recently raised questions about whether democratic culture is actually taking root on the continent. Far too many elections feature heavy vote-rigging, intimidation, and sporadic bouts of violence, rendering the final vote count questionable in the eyes of election observers. Yet the election results in Lesotho shows that some African countries can hold world-class elections, even in a country with plenty of excuses for failure, including poverty and rugged terrain. 

Even seasoned Western observers found much to praise.

“After a number of African elections that haven’t gone so well, this is more good news that free and fair elections can be done in Africa, too,” says Hans Duynhouwer, the European Union’s ambassador to Lesotho. “A coalition will be a novelty for Lesotho, as well: it will mean a change in the political culture, where they’ll have to develop a consensual approach across party divides.”

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