HISTORY OF LESOTHO AND BACKGROUND TO THE ELECTIONS
Lesotho’s path to democracy has often been difficult and uncertain. The country gained independence from Great Britain in 1966 and adopted not only a constitutional monarchy, but also – as most other former British colonies – a First-Past-The Post (FPTP) electoral system. The first democratic election was held in 1965. Although the general administration of the electoral process did not encounter serious hiccups, the election outcome delivered a minority government, for the Basotho National Party (BNP) has won only 42 per cent of the total valid vote, while the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), and some independent candidates secured a total of 58 per cent of the vote. The BCP felt cheated by the electoral system. The opposition parties contested the election outcome alleging that the BNP had rigged the process with tacit collaboration of the British colonial administration. This was followed by violet conflicts wherein not only human life was lost, but also the image of the monarch was tarnished (Matlosa, 1997). Democratic rule ended in 1970 when the then Prime Minister and the leader of BNP Chief Leabua Jonathan in agreement with the then leader of BCP Mr. Ntsu Mokhehle nullified the first post-independence election results. Therefore Chief Jonathan kept power for the 16 years until he was toppled in a military coup in 1986.
THE EARLY 90s
During the 1990’s a new attempt at introducing civil and democratic rule was attempted. In 1991 another military coup replaced the military leadership, the ban of political activity was lifted, a new constitution was adopted and elections were held in 1993. As with previous elections, the 1993 elections was well administered with only the usual hurdles of late opening of polling stations or limited supplies of material, which cannot cast doubt of the outcome. The outcome was a landslide victory for the BCP (Matlosa, 1999:11). The BNP challenged the election result and alleged that numerous instances of electoral fraud had occurred. The BCP government encountered difficulties in 1994, as it could not maintain its authority over the army and police. The King dismissed the government, but due to public pressure he was forced to restore the elected government. As it was evident that the electioneering process put a single political party in National Assembly in 1993 General elections, a National Dialogue was held in September 1995. The conference was aimed at facilitating some dialogue with those groups, which the parliamentary process had excluded, and those, which were otherwise instrumental in the management of the affairs of Lesotho as a pluralist society.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE IEC
Among the recommendations passed by the conference was the establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to manage the electoral process. Consequently, the Constitution of Lesotho was amended (Second Amendment to the Constitution Act 1997) to provide for the abolition of the office of Chief Electoral Officer (as it then was) as well as the Constituency Delimitation Commission, and for the establishment of the IEC, which was to assume the functions of those two offices.
The birth of the IEC came along with heavy amendments to both the Lesotho Constitution and the National Assembly Election Order of 1992. The most important amendments were firstly the franchising of the 18 year olds. Up until the law was thus amended the voting age was from the age of 21 upward. Secondly, the Constitution stipulated that Lesotho was to be divided into 80 constituencies, which meant an addition of fifteen constituencies to the 65 constituencies in the 1993 general election.
In 1995 the BCP was split internally in a fight between two rival factions and in January 1997 the then leader Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle left the BCP with most of the members of Parliament and the whole cabinet forming a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).