Strong men holding democracy at ransom

#StateOfTheNation: Swaziland
September 6, 2017
September 22, 2017

Strong men holding democracy at ransom

Lesotho an enclave of South Africa; is a Constitutional hereditary monarchy of about 2 million people. The 1966 constitution of Lesotho was revised on April 2, 1993. It has been amended a few times; in 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, and 2004.[1]

Historical context

Basutoland got its independence in 1966 from the British and became the Kingdom of Lesotho. Moshoeshoe II was the first King and Cheif Leabua Jonathan of the Basotho National Party (BNP) as prime minister.[2] The first post-independence elections in Lesotho were held in 1970, with the post election chaos setting precedence. The 1970 elections were won by Dr Mokhehle’s Basotho Congress Party (BCP) with 36 seats to BNP’s 23 while Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) only secured one seat in the then 60-member legislature.[3] The Basotholand National Party government nullified the election and official results were not released – the country’s multi-party democracy was suspended. Chief Jonathan seized back power and declared a state of emergency. This resulted in the arrest of some of the BCP leaders and King Moshoeshoe II.[4]

The reign of Jonathan ushered in tyranny compounded with the undue influence of the military in politics. After 20 years in office, Chief Jonathan’s reign ended following a January 1986 border blockade imposed on the country by South Africa’s apartheid regime. The blockade was due to the increased presence of African National Congress members in the country and many other bilateral disagreements. Chief Jonathan was removed from office through a military coup after years of using the army to crush any dissenting voices against his one-party rule. The 1986 coup marked the beginning of army rule, with Major-General Metsing Lekhanya taking over the reins. To tighten its grip on power, the military imposed laws that outlawed political activities such as the infamous Order No. 4. The move decimated all BNP grassroots structures.[5]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, there was international pressure on developing countries to democratise. Maj-Gen Ramaema also had to commit to structural adjustment programmes and a return of political activity in the country in preparation for a fresh election. A constitutional reform process was undertaken to bring to life the country’s current constitution and election in March 1993.

Return of democratic rule

With the 1966 Constitution revised, a vigorous election campaign was held, and the long- awaited general elections were held on 27 March 1993. The BCP won a landslide victory, capturing all 65 constituencies with over 70 percent of the vote. The election was declared to have been free and fair by a wide range of internal and external monitors.[6]

Towards the 1998 general elections, the BCP split into two warring factions. The factions seemed to be the beginning of a history of fragmentation of the mighty BCP that had gained people’s support and sympathy in the 1993 elections and secured a landslide victory. In 1997, at the height of the infighting over leadership roles, Dr Mokhehle formed the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) with a majority of the BCP rank and file defecting to the LCD.

During the 1998 elections, the LCD secured a commanding, victory by winning 78 of the country’s 80 seats in the National Assembly. However those who stayed in the BCP ended being relegated to the opposition alongside the BNP in an election that exposed the country’s first past-the-post electoral model’s flaws. Due to ill-health, Dr Mokhehle was succeeded by Pakalitha Mosisili who took over power as the country’s prime minister.[7] After the elections, there was much protest from the BNP and BCP on the elections results. The BNP-BCP pact was also joined by the MFP and other parties that argued that the LCD had manipulated the elections results in its favour. This escalated into civil unrest which lasted for nearly two months and resulted in Maseru going up in flames together with a number of buildings in the Mafeteng and Berea districts.

As the army had always dabbled in politics since its formation, the political unrest was exacerbated by a split in the Lesotho Defence Force when several officers refused to obey orders to use force to disperse protesters against Dr Mosisili’s administration which had then staged a sit-in at the gates of King Letsie III’s Palace gates. This resulted in chaos in the army that ended with Dr Mosisili seeking military intervention from SADC to help maintain order following the 11 September 1998 mutinous actions of some junior officers in the army.

MMP electoral model

The unrest was quelled when the LCD met with the opposition to negotiate fresh elections that were later carried out under a new electoral model. The new electoral model, a hybrid of the first-past-the-post and the proportional representation, mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation, adopted from New Zealand was later adopted after much deliberation under the Interim Political Authority (IPA) which came about as a compromise to facilitate the establishment of an enabling environment for the holding of a fresh election. Before the 2002 elections were held, the LCD was beset with yet more internal strife with factions once again gunning for the ouster of then deputy prime minister and party deputy leader Kelebone Maope. Mr Maope ended up bowing to pressure following disagreements in the party and formed a splinter party, the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) together with Dr Mokhehle’s younger brother, Shakhane Mokhehle.

They defected from the LCD to LPC together with 25 other members of parliament in 2001 ahead of the 2002 polls. However, when the 2002 elections were held under the MMP electoral model, the LCD secured yet another victory of 77 out of the 120 newly-increased parliamentary seats under the MMP.[8] The BNP was able to gain 21 compensatory seats in the National Assembly. The LPC only secured five seats in parliament. The National Independent Party (NIP) under the leadership of Anthony Manyeli scooped five seats in the house, while the BCP and the Basutoland African Congress each garnered three seats and the Lesotho Workers Party, the Popular Front for Democracy, MFP and the National Progressive Party each garnered one seat.

Party coalitions era begins

In the 2007 elections, Dr Mosisili’s LCD had to forge an alliance with the National Independent Party (NIP) led by Dominic Motikoe to ensure its continued dominance as the ABC proved to be a popular party attracting the urban masses in high numbers. The ABC also contested the 2007 elections in an alliance with the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) led by the late trade unionist-cum-politician, Macaefa Billy. The LCD managed to garner 62 seats in the 2007 elections with ally NIP guaranteeing the party substantial support with its 21 seats. For its part, the ABC secured 17 seats and ally LWP scooped 10 seats. The BNP had three seats while the BCP only got two seats. The rest; MFP, PFD, Basotho Democratic National Party and the Basotho Batho Democratic Party each secured a single seat.[9] The fragmentation of political parties over time due to squabbles over leadership increased the number of political parties occupying the political space.

First hung parliament

The 2012 elections resulted in a hung parliament and no party was an outright majority winner resulting in Dr Mosisili losing power to a coalition government cobbled together by Thabane’s ABC with 30 seats, Mr Metsing’s LCD with 26 seats and BNP with five seats.[10] The DC garnered 48 seats but was relegated to the opposition as no other party wanted to form a coalition to govern with it. This led to the first and historic peaceful transfer of power by Dr Mosisili to Dr Thabane on 8 June 2012.

However, the Dr Thabane-led tripartite coalition government did not last its five-year term as it collapsed in 2014 due to strained relations between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing. The eventual 28 February 2015 elections also failed to produce an outright majority winner and saw another coalition government emerge led by Dr Mosisili.

Democracy at ransom

The political scene in Lesotho has since 1998, been dominated by two men. M Mosilili (72) and Mr Thabane (78). The tug-o-war between these two men has recently claimed the life of the commander of the Lesotho defence forces Khoantle Motsomotso and two other senior officers who were shot dead at an army barracks. Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and Lieutenant-Colonel Bulane Sechele, forced their way into Motsomotso`s office – they also both died in the ensuing fight. Lesotho has been beset by power struggled and concerns about military involvement in politics.

The country had seen many high-profile assassinations, including the 2015 killing of former army chief. In 2015, former commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao was killed by LDF members. Not coincidentally, it was Motsomotso who authorised the operation that led to Mahao’s death; and Sechele who carried it out.  The military in Lesotho has over the years been dogged by controversy and has a history of seizing power as evidenced by the 1986 military coup, conflicts of 1994 and 1998 and the political and security unrest of 2007.

This use of the military in politics has perpetuated the protracted struggle for power. The current Prime Minister has to ensure the demobilisation of the army and the police. This must be coupled with peace efforts amongst the political leaders, including the former deputy prime minister – Metsing who is currently exiled in South Africa.

[1] EISA. 2005. Lesotho Constitution. July 2005. Available at: (Accessed: 14 September 2017).

[2] BBC. 2017. Lesotho Profile. 15 June 2017.  Available at: (Accessed: 14 September 2017).

[3] African Elections Database. Available at: (Accessed: 15 September 2017).

[4] n 3.

[5] South African History. 1986. A Military Coup Deposes the Lesotho Government. January 1986. Available at: (Accessed: 14 September 2017).

[6] N.3.

[7] N.3.

[8] Knowledge Bylanes South Africa. 2017. Lesotho: Voters return to polls after only two years. June 1 2017. Available at: (Accessed: 13 September 2017).

[9] N. 8.

[10] N.8.