Johannesburg - The people of the southern African mountain kingdom of Lesotho began voting on Saturday in early parliamentary elections aimed at restoring stability following a coup attempt.
Twenty-four parties are vying for support among the 1.2 million registered voters in the country, which is surrounded by South Africa.
The elections were moved forward by two years after soldiers were accused of attempting a coup on 30 August, surrounding Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's residence and police headquarters. One police officer was killed.
Also Read: Army confined to barracks as Lesotho votes
The army said at the time it only wanted to disarm rogue elements within the police force - but the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said the events resembled a coup.
Thabane fled to South Africa and returned to Lesotho under South African police escort.
The premier's three-party coalition government had run into trouble in June 2014, when his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing announced a vote of no confidence against him, prompting him to dissolve parliament.
Analysts say the strife could be related to Thabane's anti-corruption campaign, which threatened to implicate Metsing. The deputy premier is under investigation over his alleged involvement in the coup attempt.
Also Read: Lesotho prepares for early vote to ease crisis
The 24 parties contesting the elections include Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC), Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the smaller Basotho National Party (BNP), which form the coalition government.
The biggest party in the current parliament is former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC), which took nearly 40% of the vote in the 2012 elections, but did not join the coalition.
The DC and LCD have now grown close and it is thought possible that they could form the next coalition government.
The differences between the parties are historical rather than ideological, according to Dimpho Motsamai from South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.
She said the government had focused on power struggles rather than on improving the lives of the people, nearly 60% of whom live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
The main political parties have their allies in the security forces, with many in the police seen as siding with Thabane while Metsing enjoys support within the military.
The army pledged to remain in their barracks to calm fears of post-election violence, which is not uncommon in Lesotho.
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who helped to mediate in the Lesotho crisis on behalf of the SADC, said he was "encouraged by the huge turn-out of the masses of the people of Lesotho at electoral political rallies which took place under peaceful conditions."
The first election results are expected on Sunday and the final ones by Thursday.