Focus On: Lesotho Parliamentary Election

May 23, 2012, 3:30 p.m.

After dissolving Parliament in March, Lesotho’s King Lestie III declared that elections for the 120- member National Assembly will take place on May 26, 2012. ((Ngwawi, Joseph. Lesotho: King Announces May Election. All Africa. April 10 2012))

Electoral System

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a Constitutional Monarchy with King Lestie III acting as the head of state. According to Lesotho’s traditional law, the College of Chiefs is the only body that has the ability to dispose of the country’s monarch. Lesotho has a bicameral legislature where the upper house, the Senate, consists of 33 non-elected seats, whereas the lower house, the National Assembly, consists of 120 elected seats. In the Senate, 22 seats are reserved for hereditary members while 11 seats are for members nominated by the King. The National Assembly is elected by a unique variation of mixed-member proportional representation; 80 members are elected by plurality vote in single member constituencies and 40 members are elected by closed-list proportional representation. ((The Mixed Member Proportional System was adopted by Lesotho in 2002.)) Voters receive two ballots on Election Day; the first is used to vote for a candidate in the nominal tier, while the second is for the party list tier. The list tier ballot is used to determine the number of seats each party would receive if the system was fully proportional. ((Seats are allocated using a variant of the Hare Quota. The total number of votes cast on the party ballot is divided by the total number of seats at stake in the National Assembly (normally 120) in a given election. The number of votes each party received on the party ballot is then divided by this quota to determine how many seats it deserves to receive. By calculating the quota with the total number of open seats (as opposed to just seats in the PR tier) it can be determined how many seats a party should have won if the system was perfectly proportional. This number is than compared to the seats a party won in the nominal tier to determine how many seats it should be awarded in the list tier.)) (For example, if a party is determined to deserve 20 seats and it won 10 in the nominal tier, it will be given an additional 10 seats in the list tier). ((ACE Project, Country: Lesotho))  In both houses of Parliament, members serve five year terms. ((ElectionGuide Country Profile: Lesotho))

Background Surrounding the 2007 Election

Snap Parliamentary elections were held in February 2007 after then-Communications Minister, Tom Thabane, left the Lesotho Congress of Democrats (LCD) and took 17 LCD Parliamentarians with him to create an opposition party known as the All-Basotho Convention (ABC).  Both the LCD and ABC employed a unique strategy that effectively took advantage of a weakness in the electoral law and created considerable criticism over the method of electing parliament. The arrangement consisted of both larger parties aligning with like-minded smaller parties.  The ABC and LCD only ran candidates in the single-member districts and the smaller parties only submitted candidates for the party list seats. Smaller party supporters voted for the larger party candidates in the single-member constituencies and larger party supporters voted for the small party candidates on the party ballots. ((EISA, Lesotho: Conflict Over National Assembly seat allocation in 2007.)) This had the effect of allowing the large parties to win party-list seats (via the small parties) while not being punished for being “overrepresented” in the seat distribution formula. The result of the election was the LCD winning a landslide victory of 61 nominal tier seats, and their partner, the National Independent Party, winning 21 compensatory seats. The All Basotho Convention won only 17 nominal tier seats while their smaller partner won ten. ((EISA, Lesotho: Conflict Over National Assembly seat allocation in 2007.)) These results would lead Lesotho’s opposition parties to contest the outcome; they stated that the election was rigged by the ruling party and the electoral commission in order to ensure a LCD victory. ((BBC News Ruling Party Wins Lesotho polls. February 21 2007)) Anger over the election results would culminate with a general strike, closing down public transportation and most shops. ((BBC News Poll Strike Closes Lesotho City. March 19 2007)) They demanded that the National Assembly seats be reallocated in a way that would count the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and it's smaller ally, the National Independent Party, as one party. ((EISA, Lesotho: Conflict Over National Assembly seat allocation in 2007.)) If these demands had to come to fruition, the LCD/NIP would have lost 20 seats.

Mediation and Electoral Reform

With fears of this political standoff unraveling, and of repeating the events of 1998 ((After the 1998 elections, opposition parties protested the results, which would eventually become violent in August 1998. By September, member of the military mutinied and the government called for a SADC intervention to restore order. Military forces from South Africa and Botswana entered the country, put down the mutiny and restored order to Lesotho.)), an impartial intervention became critical to safeguarding democracy. The Christian Council of Lesotho, members from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Troika, and the UN Development Program would all at one point assist in this mediation process. The intervention would make little progress until March of 2011, when a breakthrough in the mediation process resulted in reforms to the country’s electoral system. The parties agreed to preserve the mixed-member proportional system, however, the possibility of future electoral alliances between parties was ruled out. ((Public Eye Daily, UN pledges support to mediation processes in Lesotho. September 27 2011)) This was arguably the most important reform, as it prevents the parties from gaming the system like they did in 2007. Furthermore, it was agreed upon that the ballot must be simplified:  instead of two ballots, voters would cast one ballot with both tiers of seats. These electoral reforms, including other provisions to allowing for domestic courts to hear electoral disputes, ((Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report Lesotho April 2012)) would be incorporated into the Electoral Reform Act of 2011 that was approved by Parliament and King Letsie III in August of 2011. ((Public Eye Daily, Quiet mediation deepening democratic values in Lesotho. September 30 2011))

Current Political Climate Leading up to Election

In January 2012, Lesotho’s political parties were urged to sign an “election roadmap,” which was designed to restore trust in the Independent Electoral Commission, commit leaders to upholding election laws, and resolve disputes through negotiation. ((Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report Lesotho April 2012.)) However, three opposition political parties refused to sign after Prime Minster Mosisili opted to not personally sign the document, instead instructing his deputy, Lesao Lehohla, to do so. Many saw this as a lack of commitment on the Prime Minister’s part to uphold the agreement. This inter-election period has been made even more dramatic due to Prime Minister Mosisili's decision to leave the LCD and creating his own party, the Democratic Congress. ((Breakaway parties are common in Lesotho politics. Personal rivalries within politics tend to take precedence over ideology.)) Over the past two years, the LCD has been plagued with friction largely due to in fighting over who is Prime Minister Mosisili’s heir apparent. In January, squabbling between rival factions in the party would lead to a falling out between the Prime Minister and members of the LCD’s executive committee, which in turn would lead to the removal of Mothejoa Metsing, the LCD secretary-general, and two others from the Prime Minister’s cabinet. After an aborted attempt to muster a vote of no confidence against Mosisili by Metsing, the schism within the LCD seemed abundantly clear. On February 25, the Democratic Congress was formed. The party was able to form a slim governing majority by gaining the support of 44 LCD defectors, thus allowing Prime Minister Mosisili to keep his position as well as his hold on power. ((Ngwawi, Joseph. Lesotho: King Announces May Election. All Africa. April 10 2012)) With this power shift, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, the All Basotho Convention, the National Independent Party and the Lesotho Workers Party are all among the 11 opposition parties represented in the National Assembly. ((US State Department, Background Notes: Lesotho))

Election Violence

On April 19, violent clashes occurred at a pro-government political rally leaving more than ten people injured. ((Lesotho Times, Dozen injured as DC, opposition supporters clash. April 19 2012)) The acting Police commissioner has warned political party leaders that they must control their supporters or they will suffer the consequences. ((Sunday Express, Leaders urged to control supporters)) In a similar vein, the military has also threatened to crackdown on those who start violence during this campaign season. ((Sunday Express, Army Threatens Crackdown)) On the invitation of the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) and United Nations Lesotho chapter, South African anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered a keynote address urging rival groups to keep the peace and that asking them to beware of the political violence and that political conquest could be worth the loss of innocent life. Furthermore, the Archbishop asked all the political party leaders to sign his “vow of peace,” which all political leaders, including Mosisili, did. ((Jordan, Michael J Bishop Tutu urges peace in upcoming Lesotho elections. Christian Science Monitor. May 1 2012))

What’s next?

Much uncertainty clouds the 2012 Lesotho elections. Assumptions that the LCD will remain the dominant power in the National Assembly in this upcoming election have been shaken by Prime Minister Mosisili's decision to defect and create the Democratic Congress. However, despite his political longevity,  it is still unclear if Mosisili will be able to mobilize rural voters as he did in past elections without the help of LCD’s grass root activists. Nevertheless, even if the results of this election are contested like in the past, it is believed that with the new electoral reforms in place, political stability will not be undermined. ((Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report Lesotho April 2012))

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