Cape Town — Lesotho will hold early elections in a bid to end the nation's political deadlock.
In a communique issued late Monday after a regional summit in Pretoria, Southern African heads of state said that the leaders of Lesotho's coalition government "have agreed to bring forward the date of the elections from 2017 to [a] date to be agreed upon after consultations between the coalition leaders... and other political stakeholders."
Since Lesotho's last election in 2012, the country has been ruled by a three-party coalition which has excluded the party with the greatest number of seats in Parliament, the Democratic Congress of former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
However, in recent months the coalition has been hit by disputes between Prime Minister Tom Thabane of the All Basotho Convention and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy.
In June Thabane suspended sittings of Parliament - apparently to avoid a vote of no confidence - and at the end of August the country's military chief sent troops into the streets and briefly seized police facilities. Thabane fled to South Africa.
He returned 10 days later under South African protection, after regional powers and the coalition leaders had agreed that Parliament should be reconvened. However, the parties again deadlocked, with Thabane and the smallest coalition partner, the Basotho National Party, saying Parliament could not meet until there was proper control over the army.
Monday's summit - attended by presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Ian Khama of Botswana and ministers from Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo - urged the coalition leaders to reconvene Parliament and to focus their efforts on preparing for early elections.
They authorized the deployment of a regional "Politics, Defence and Security observation mission" for three months "to ensure peace and stability within the defence and security establishments" in Lesotho.
They also appointed South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as a facilitator and said the coalition government would work with Ramaphosa "in addressing all political and security challenges in preparation for the brought-forward elections."