April 10, 2012

King announces May election

The King of Lesotho has set 26 May as the date for eagerly awaited general elections following a successful dialogue that ended the deadlock among the main political players. Agreement was reached one year ago after lengthy negotiations mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) aimed at finding a lasting solution to the political challenges in the country.

"King Letsie III, in accordance with section 37 (1) of the 2011 National Assembly Election Act, and acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, proclaims that May 26 will be Election Day," said a statement released by Prime Minister Mosisili Pakalitha in March. King Letsie III dissolved the Lesotho Parliament on 15 March to pave way for campaigning by the country's 10 political parties.

Post-electoral dissatisfaction emerged in Lesotho after the 2007 elections as the opposition party refused to accept the results, plunging the country into a crisis. This resulted in a negotiating team comprising heads of churches in Lesotho and facilitators from the SADC Troika being put in place by southern African leaders to address the situation. Stakeholders to the meditation process included the Independent Electoral Commission of Lesotho, the former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), opposition parties and the government. The agreement led to the amendment of the Lesotho Electoral Law and the constitution in preparation for the forthcoming elections. The ultimate result of this was the presentation of the National Assembly Electoral Bill 2011 and the 6th Amendment to the Constitution to the Parliament in March last year.

The run-up to the elections was made exciting by Mosisili's defection from the LCD to form a new party called Democratic Congress. In office since May 1998, Mosisili remained prime minister while the LCD became the main opposition party. Mosisili's departure was said to be the result of a fallout with the LCD national executive committee, after prolonged factional squabbles since 2008.

The new party formed on 25 February gained a slim majority after garnering support from 45 Members of Parliament from 80 constituencies in Lesotho's 120-member parliament. It was the second time Mosisili has crossed the floor, having defected from the Basutoland Congress Party under leader Ntsu Mokhehle in 1997 to form the LCD. The LCD won 62 seats or 52 percent of the 120-seat National Assembly in the last elections held in February 2007, followed by National Independent Party with 21 seats and the All Basotho Convention with 17 seats.

Under Lesotho law, the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly automatically becomes prime minister. Lesotho has a bicameral Parliament consisting of the Senate with 33 seats and the National Assembly with 120 seats. The monarch is hereditary and under traditional law only the college of chiefs has the power to depose and/or invest a monarch. 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.
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 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. (Southern African News Features)

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