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  ABOUT LESOTHO - Politics of Independence

Politics of Independence

By the tirne the 1960 Disctrict Council elections were held, the BCP was the best established political rnovernent - but it was no longer alone. As rnoves were made to establish a Legislative Council in the late 1950s, division began to emerge in the BCP. As early as 1957, certain senior chiefs led by S S Matete, formed the Marerna Tiou Party (MTP). They feared that commoners would dominate the Legislative Council and that the Regent 'Mantsebo would relinquish all of the prerogatives of the monarchy. They called for the immediate installation of Constantinus Bereng Seeiso as Paramount Chief and Prince Bereng Seeiso was eventually installed as Moshoeshoe II in 1960.

A second split occurred when a number of junior chiefs, allied to the Catholic Church, questioned the radical Pan Africanist views of Mokhehle. BCP talk of democratising the chieftainship also frightened many. These chiefs and Catholics formed the Basutoland National Party in 1958 which was led by Chief Leabua Jonathan.

The 1960 elections showed the BCP and allied independent candidates winning 32 of 40 indirectly elected seats in the Legislative Council. The MTP and BNP shared the rest. This victory did not empower the BCP to govern, however, because the other 40 seats in the Council were appointed from among chiefs and conservative elements.

The Constitutional Review Commission appointed by Moshoeshoe II in 1961, submitted its report in 1963. It approved a West minister style constitution, with the 60 seats of the Lower House being elected by universal adult suffrage, while the Senate would consist of the 22 Principal and Ward chiefs as well as 11 members nominated by the monarch. The King was to enjoy few powers and this disappointed him greatly. The Constitution enjoyed widespread support and was accepted by Britain. Elections for the first government would be held in 1965, with Independence following soon thereafter.

The results of the 1965 elections were a surprise to most observers who expected the BCP to repeat its landslide victory of the 1960 elections. The BNP won 31 seats, the BCP 25 and the MTP only 4 seats. The BNP led Lesotho to Independence on 4 October 1966.

Although the BNP government did achieve some measure of success during its five-year term, the electorate were disillusioned and thought the party had done very little to improve the lot of the people. Others thought it was too friendly with apartheid South Africa and had lost touch with the rural people who got it into power. The BNP was, however, oblivious to the people's real feelings as it relaxed and took its own propaganda too seriously. The BCP moved quickly into this growing vaccuurn and organised effectively against the BNP in the 1970 elections.

The BCP won the 1970 general elections, capturing 36 seats to the BNP's 23, with the MFP picking up only one. Initially the BNP government may have been prepared to hand over power to the opposition, but certain cabinet ministers threatened the prime minister and together they engineered the nullification of the elections, the declaration of a state of emergency, and the arrest of opposition leaders and the King. Talks to bring about a true government of national unity were scuttled when Britain unilaterally resumed its massive aid programme to Lesotho. In 1973 the government gained a measure of credibility by forming an interim National Assembly appointed by Leabua and including certain prominent BCP leaders who had broken away from Mokhehle.

Between 1973 and 1985 significant strides were made in Lesotho in expand- ing the school and health systems, in upgrading roads and communications, in training government workers and in securing foreign aid for a multitude of projects. Foreign aid increased dramatic- ally when the government began voicing harsh criticism of apartheid policies of its neighbour and allowed a large number of ANC exiles to stay in the country.

Faced with growing internal and external pressure, both from the armed wing of the BCP as well as foreign donors, the BNP government was forced to make a feeble attempt towards holding representative elections in 1985. Because the BNP threatened the other parties, only the BNP contested the primaries and thus there was 'no need' to hold general elections. But this 'overwhelming victory' only served to exacerbate tensions inside the ruling party itself. Finally, the crisis was precipitated by a South African border blockade in January 1986, which was overtly a challenge to the growing ANC presence in Lesotho. Leabua's government was overthrown in a military coup led by Major-General Lekhanya.

The military ruled for the period 1986-1993. The King was given executive powers and political parties were banned. But there was growing tension in the Military Council between the monarchists, who supported a full-scale return to government based upon the chieftainship and an executive monarchy, and those who doubted this programme for what ever reason. In 1990, the King's major backers in the Military Council were removed, the King was forced into exile, and then dethroned. Prince Mohato was sworn in as Letsie III in November 1990. Major General Lekhanya, in order to restore his own waning support, made sweeping promises for a return to democratically elected government under a revised constitution. But hardly a year later Lekhanya was deposed by the military over a pay dispute and was replaced by Major-General Ramaema, who undertook to continue with Lekhanya's democratic programme.

After three years of preparation, the 1966 Constitution was 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.

The BCP was faced with the daunting task of re-establishing a truly democratic structure and spirit to government, both at the national and local level. During its first year in office the new government also faced a number of crises, including turmoil within the security forces.

Most important was the 'Palace Coup' of August 1994 when King Letsie III suspended the constitution and created an interim government. But it soon became clear that there was no support from the nation for the usurpers. South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe intervened. The coup collapsed and the democratically elected government was returned to power. As part of the terms of the settlement, Moshoeshoe II was reinstalled as King of Lesotho.

On 15 January 1996 King Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident and was buried at Thaba Bosiu, the burial place of all Lesotho Kings, on 26 January. Among the dignitaries that attended the funeral were Presidents Quett Masire of Botswana, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. King Moshoeshoe was succeeded by his son who was sworn in as King Letsie III on 7 February 1996.-

Throughout the 1990s, politics in Lesotho were deeply affected by economic difficulties relating to the decline of the gold mining industry in South Africa. Low prices for gold on world markets translated into declining employment opportunities for Basotho miners in South Africa, and in turn, declining remittances to Lesotho by Basotho migrant labor. In 1989, there were 129,000 Basotho miners working in South Africa. By 1998, Basotho miners in South Africa had declined to 80,400, and by 1999, there were only 68,400 migrant Basotho miners in South Africa. The impact of declining remittances from miners on Lesotho’s economy is staggering. In 1986, miners remittances accounted for 67 percent of Lesotho’s Gross Domestic Product. By 1996, miners were contributing only 33 percent of Lesotho’s GDP, and it is estimated that from 1998 to 1999 migrant remittances dropped another 15 percent to a figure of about 190 million US dollars.

The leadup to general elections in 1998 was marked by infighting among leaders of he BCP. In 1997, intra party disputes over leadership roles resulted in the formation of a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), led by Ntsu Mokhehle. Mokhehle succeeded in taking the majority of the BCP rank and file into the LCD, and the LCD won an overwhelming victory in the 1998 election winning 78 out of 80 possible seats in the National Assembly. Reflecting the effects of Lesotho’s ‘first past the post’ electoral system, in which the leading vote getter in parliamentary seat constituencies wins the election, the Basotho National Party won only one seat, although overall it gained 24.5 percent of the vote. Following the election, due to illness, Pakalitha Mosisili replaced Ntsu Mokhehle as prime minister.

Both the Basotho National Party and the Basotholand Congress Party protested the results of the elections. On the side of the BCP, the protests were rooted in continued enmity over the formation of the LCD. The BNP however, felt that it was denied adequate representation in the National Assembly due to Lesotho’s “first past the post” electoral system.

A South African constitutional court judge and other international election observers ruled that, notwithstanding irregularities, the 1998 elections were valid. However, opposition groups were able to demonstrate considerable support for their challenge to the election’s legitimacy. Beginning in August 1998, nearly two months of civil unrest over alleged election irregularities resulted in significant economic disruption and damage to commercial infrastructure.

A split in the Lesotho army exacerbated confusion during pro and anti government demonstrations. The army became divided when several officers refused to obey orders to use force to disperse protesters. On Sept. 11, 1998, junior army officers detained 20 senior officers.

On September 16, Prime Minister Mosisili made the first of several appeals for military intervention by South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help the government maintain order. In response to Mosisili’s appeal, Botswana and South Africa sent troops to Lesotho. Clashes between the foreign troops, protesters and Lesotho army supporters led to several casualties.

In mid-October of 1999, the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy met with the opposition parties to negotiate the implementation of new elections. An agreement was made to establish an Interim Political Authority (IPA) made up of two delegates from each political party. The broad justification for the IPA was to help achieve political compromise and avoid a descent into political chaos. Specifically, the IPA was charged to undertake reforms of the electoral system and to organize new elections within 18 months. The IPA took power in early December 1998. By that time, 100 had died in the conflict. South African and Botswana troops finally withdrew in April and May 1999.

Source: (1) Lesotho 1996 - OFFICIAL YEARBOOK, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting [Pub].
(2) www.CountryWatch.com

Extracted from The Lesotho Government Website: www.lesotho.gov.ls


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