The general election in Lesotho, May 2002: adapting to MMP

Fox, R.C. and Southall, R. (2004) The general election in Lesotho, May 2002: adapting to MMP. Electoral studies, 23 (3). pp. 545-550. ISSN 0261-3794



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Voters in the small southern African kingdom of Lesotho went to the polls on 25 May 2002, in the third general election since the country returned to democracy following a long period of civilian dictatorship (1970–1986) and military rule (1986–1993). Voting in all Lesotho’s general elections has usually gone smoothly, yet in every case prior to 2002 the results have been challenged, with varying severity, by the losing parties (Weisfelder, 1999). This occurred most notably in 1970, when the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) lost the election but overrode the result, and subsequently in 1998, when the BNP—then in opposition—was at the core of an alliance of electoral losers; in the months that followed, and with the quiet support of the security forces, the capital was so paralysed that the government called for external assistance to restore order. The result was military intervention by South Africa and Botswana (who acted on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, SADC), the restoration of power to the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and an extended period when, backed by South African muscle, long overdue reforms of the military and police were implemented. These reforms were matched by negotiations between the parties about adopting a new electoral system. The outcome moved Lesotho away from the first-past-the-post system inherited from Britain at independence (which in 1993 and 1998 had resulted in highly imbalanced results favouring the winning party) towards a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. Lesotho became the first country in Africa to adopt MMP at a time when discussion of electoral system change was becoming widespread throughout the continent. The issue in Lesotho in 2002 was not merely whether MMP would provide greater electoral legitimacy and political stability; subsequent events have provided a resounding ‘Yes’ (Elklit, 2002 and Southall, 2003). But there were questions about the practicality of the new system and whether voters would understand it. Was it possible to explain a new voting system to an electorate in one of Africa’s poorest countries? The main focus of this Note is to demonstrate that voters can adapt to electoral system change. Thus, it throws doubt on arguments that electoral reforms in Africa should be avoided due to a lack of sophistication among poor and largely uneducated voters. Electors in Lesotho appeared to have no great difficulty in understanding the broad principles of the new electoral system, even if the detailed mechanics of ‘mixed’ voting systems may have been beyond them.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Notes on Recent Elections
Uncontrolled Keywords:Lesotho; Elections; Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system
Subjects:Y Unknown > Subjects to be assigned
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Geography
ID Code:478
Deposited By: Mrs Eileen Shepherd
Deposited On:20 Nov 2006
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:18
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