Lesotho prepares for 7 October elections

SANF 22 no 36 – by Clarkson Mambo

The Kingdom of Lesotho will hold general elections this week to elect Members of Parliament who will then choose a Prime Minister, who becomes Head of Government.

According to a statement released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Lesotho, the polls will be held on 7 October, after King Letsie III dissolved Parliament on 14 July and gave the country 90 days within which to hold elections as per the Constitution.

The elections are expected to attract regional attention as Lesotho has experienced some political instability over the past few years, which has resulted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) putting in place various measures to address the situation in the Kingdom.

Lesotho has had recurring political instability since 2012 including a coup in 2014 and has held three national elections within five years.

In fact, no Prime Minister has managed to serve a full five-year term since the elections in 2012, and none of the political parties has garnered the majority votes to form a government, leading to the formation of an alliance government.

There have been assassinations of key military personnel, affecting efforts to promote and find a lasting solution to the political situation in the country.

Meeting at its annual SADC Summit held in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo in August, southern African leaders noted progress by Lesotho in the implementation of some of the regional decisions aimed at promoting peace in the country.

The summit also urged the country to expedite the completion of the ongoing political reforms and to continue with peace, justice and reconciliation process to establish national healing and cohesion.

One of the key achievements of the SADC facilitated process was the establishment of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) in February 2020 to oversee the implementation of political reforms.

The NRA which was later dissolved in April 2022 made some progress in facilitating reforms in seven thematic areas — constitutional, security, economy, judiciary, public service, parliament and the media.

However, Lesotho is yet to pass two key Bills — the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2022 and the National Assembly Electoral Amendment Act — seen as crucial and targeted at ending political volatility in parliament ahead of the general elections.

The Bill seeks to prohibit lawmakers from switching party allegiance within the first three years of their tenure something that had become prominent in recent years, destabilizing political parties.

The Act aims to make the King, instead of the Prime Minister, the commander of the armed forces. This particular change is targeted at preventing political leaders from meddling in security services, and it is the norm in most countries that the Head of State is Commander-in-Chief.

In July, the IEC was able to facilitate the signing of the electoral code of conduct by political leaders that aims to promote conditions for free, fair and transparent elections, while the country also established the National Joint Operation Centre (NATJOC), whose mandate is to provide security and oversee the holding of free and fair elections.

The NATJOC is made up of various people including experts from the ministries of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, the Lesotho Defence Force, as well as the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and National Security Service.

In this regard, the 7 October polls are set to go a long way in consolidating and promoting peace in Lesotho, thus giving the new government impetus to continue implementing the reforms.

According to the IEC, a total of 65 political parties will take part in the 7 October general elections, up from the 27 that contested the previous elections in 2017.

The leading political parties according to the current representation in the last Parliament are the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by the health minister, Nkaku Kabi; and the Democratic Congress which is headed by Mathibeli Mokhothu.

The other prominent parties are the Lesotho Congress for Democracy led by former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, as well as Basotho Action party headed by Professor Nqosa Mahao and the newly established Revolution for Prosperity led by Sam Matekane.

Lesotho has a bicameral Parliament consisting of the Senate with 33 seats and the National Assembly with 120 seats.

In the Senate, 22 members are hereditary while the remaining 11 members are nominated by the monarch. They are both expected to serve five-year terms.

The monarchy is hereditary and under traditional law only the college of chiefs has the power to depose and/or invest a monarch.

National Assembly members are elected by direct popular vote using the mixed member proportional system.

Under this system, 80 parliamentarians in single-member constituencies are chosen using the first-past-the-post system while the remaining 40 are elected from one national constituency using party-list proportional representation.

The latter is used to determine the number of seats each party would receive if the system was fully proportional.

The total number of votes cast on the party ballot is divided by the 120 seats at stake in the National Assembly to determine how many seats each party deserves to receive.

This number is then compared to the seats a party won in the constituency list to determine how many seats it should be awarded in the party list.

For example, if a party is determined to deserve 20 seats but has won only 10 in the constituency elections, it will be given an additional 10 seats.

The SADC Election Observation Mission (SEOM) will observe the October 7 elections in accordance with the provisions of the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, and will issue a comprehensive report on the conduct of the polls after the elections

Head of SEOM, Frans Kapofi, who is the Namibian Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs has commended the people of Lesotho for the general peace and calm, adding that this should be maintained during and after the polls. sardc.net

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