Lesotho: Constitutional reform and stability (1998-2006)

Updated February 2007

The Interim Political Authority (IPA) began its work of reviewing Lesotho's constitutional and electoral arrangements in December and concluded it in February 2000, with an eye on holding new elections in June 2000; the process was slow due to the conflictual relationships that had developed between the parties and the high degree of mistrust that existed between them (Institute of Security Studies 2003; see Electoral reform in Lesotho). The final agreement required the introduction of a mixed member system by which proportional representation seats would be allocated on a compensatory basis in addition to the 80 single member constituency seats elected by plurality; this would ensure that discrepancies between the proportion of votes and the proportion of seats won were reduced and that smaller parties would also be represented in the National Assembly (Institute of Security Studies 2003). What became a sticking point was the number of compensatory seats to be allocated, for the IPA agreed on 50 but when the proposed electoral law was introduced to the National Assembly the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) reneged on their undertaking and reverted to the system already in use, so the Senate rejected the Bill; the stalemate was finally broken when the Bill was amended to provide for 40 compensatory seats (Saunders 2002; 527; Institute of Security Studies 2003).

While these negotiations dragged on the elections were postponed repeatedly so that the elections finally only took place on 25 May 2002 (Institute of Security Studies 2003). Several other reforms were undertaken to ensure that the results would be accepted by the parties involved which included updating of the voters roll and a new voter verification system (see KABEMBA, C (ed) 2004 From Military Rule to Multiparty Democracy: Political Reforms and Challenges in Lesotho [PDF document], EISA No 2, 21 for more details). The run up to the elections were marked by leadership struggles and splits within the three major parties. The ruling LCD witnessed a power struggle between its leader, Pakalitha Mosisili, and justice minister Shakhane Mokhehle, which ended in the formation of the Lesotho People's Congress on 12 October 2001 under Mokhehle when he lost the fight (Matlosa & Sello 2005, 29; Institute of Security Studies 2003). The Basotho National Party (BNP) saw conflicts between the new party leader Maj Gen Lekhanya and its secretary-general (in which the former gained the upper hand), while factions in the BCP held two rival congresses led respectively by leader Molapo Qhobela and challenger Tseliso Makhakhe at the beginning of 2001, culminating in the triumph of Makhakhe and the foundation in 2002 of the Basotholand African Congress in 2002 by Qhobela (Matlosa & Sello 2005, 30; Institute of Security Studies 2003).

Though the LCD won the 2002 election and captured all but one of the constituency seats the allocation of compensatory proportional representation seats ensured that the opposition parties were not excluded from the National Assembly, for all of the compensatory seats were allocated to them (see 2002 National Assembly Election results). According to the Institute of Security Studies (2003): "the International Election Observation Delegation that endorsed the election as "…free, fair, peaceful, lawful and transparent". This assessment, despite initial objections, was accepted by all but the Basotho National Party (BNP), led by former military ruler Maj Gen Lekhanya, but fears of BNP and/or military led unrest as a result proved unfounded (Institute of Security Studies 2003; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2005).

The development of the Lesotho highlands water project, which was aimed at meeting the water needs of South Africa's major industrial area in Gauteng, generating electricity for Lesotho, stimulating development and generating revenue for Lesotho (Lesotho Highlands Development Authority 2006), was the occasion for a massive corruption scandal, which culminated in the trial and conviction of Masupha Sole, CEO of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, in May 2002 and revealed a web of corrupt practices by several multinationals involved in the project (Darroch 2004). In 2002 royalties earned were M15million/month and that by July, 2002 the Lesotho government had received about M937million and the project will continue to generate streams of revenue in the future, underlining the importance of the scheme to the economy (Lesotho Highlands Development Authority 2002). The vigourous prosecution of the corruption case also enhanced the image of Lesotho amongst donors and potential investors. Further, the effects of a crippling three year drought came to the fore in 2004, leading the government to appeal for food aid from the international community and underscoring the importance of water management for the agricultural sector of the economy (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2007).

Revenue from the highlands project notwithstanding, Lesotho remains one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of only US$402 in 2004 according the IMF, despite a relatively high literacy rate of 90.3% for women and 73.7% for men (see Lesotho: Fact file). The textile industry was threatened by Chinese competition as a result of the opening up of markets and a strengthening of the currency (which is pegged to the South African Rand), but has made a recovery and even expanded (IRIN 2006). However with massive unemployment (63.5% in 2004 according to the Global Policy Network & Lesotho Clothing & Allied Workers' Union) and insufficiently high growth rates to reduce unemployment (4.8% in 2006 according to the Lesotho Central Bank) prospects for improvement in the situation the immediate future are poor. The Kingdom has been very hard hit by the HIV/AIDS plague (see Lesotho: Fact file); according to UNAIDS the prevalence rate in the 16-45 year group was 23.2% in 2005, life expectancy had declined to 37.7 years for women and to 34.6 for men by 2003 while the population was forecast to shrink by 0.3% a year on average in the period 2003-2015.

Constitutionally, all else being equal, Lesotho was scheduled to hold elections for the National Assembly in May 2007, but a split in the ruling party led to them being held earlier than was expected, catching opposition parties off guard and finding the Independent Electoral Commission unprepared (Matashane-Marite et al 2007, 1-2). In October 2006 the Minister of Communications, Motsoahae Thobane reigned from the government and the ruling LCD to form the All Basotho Convention (ABC), citing lack of service delivery and abuse of state resources for doing so (Matashane-Marite et al 2007, 5-6). The defection of MPs from the ruling party was sufficient to endanger the government's majority in the National Assembly, resulting in the early dissolution of Parliament and the scheduling of elections for 17 February 2007 (Matashane-Marite et al 2007, 6). The outcome of the election was a victory for the LCD and its ally the National Independent Party, who garnered 82 of the 120 seats, while the ABC and its ally the Lesotho Workers Party obtained 27 seats (for more detail on the election see 2007 National Assembly election results). The once significant Basutoland Congress Party and Basotho National Party won only 1 and 3 seats respectively.


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