June 8, 2012 / 2:35 PM / 8 years ago

New Lesotho PM sworn in to head coalition government

MASERU (Reuters) - Lesotho opposition leader Thomas Thabane was sworn in on Friday as the mountain kingdom’s new prime minister after he ousted the man who held the job for 14 years by cobbling together a narrow coalition government.

The smooth transition will allay fears for a rerun of 1998, when post-poll wrangling led to weeks of unrest that ultimately triggered military intervention by neighbouring South Africa and Botswana to restore order.

“This is not my victory but your victory as the nation because you are the ones who elected us into power,” Thabane, a 72-year-old career civil servant and former foreign minister, said at the swearing in ceremony in the capital Maseru.

Pakalitha Mosisili, prime minister for 14 years, accepted defeat this week after Thabane managed to forge the coalition after elections held almost two weeks ago.

Mosisili’s Democratic Congress party had the most seats with 48 while Thabane’s All Basotho Convention came second with 30. But Thabane managed to tap into anti-Mosisili sentiment among smaller parties to get a slim majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Since independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho - entirely surrounded by South Africa - has undergone several military coups although the army and police told election monitors before the poll they would act professionally and not take sides. The capital on Friday was calm.

Unrest would have dented a $4 billion economy, which is forecast to expand at 4 percent this year due to a boom in diamond mining and a recovery in the farming sector after serious flooding in 2011.

Besides a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho’s big earner is hydropower exported to South Africa from the massive mountain ranges that have made it a favourite of trivia fans as “the world’s highest country” - its lowest point is 1,380 metres (4,528 feet) above sea level.

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