On 25 May 2002 voters in the small Southern African kingdom of Lesotho went to the polls in the third general election since the country returned to democracy after a long period of civilian dictatorship (1970-86) and military rule (1986-93). Although voting in all Lesotho’s general elections has usually gone smoothly, in every case prior to 2002 the results have been challenged, with varying degrees of severity, by the losing parties (Weisfelder 1999, pp 109-32). 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 – now in opposition – had been at the core of an alliance of electoral losers who, in the months that followed and enjoying the quiet support of the security forces, so paralysed the capital that a powerless government felt constrained to call for external assistance to restore order. The result was military intervention by South Africa and Botswana (acting on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)); the restoration of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to power; and an extended period when, backed by South African muscle, long overdue reforms of the military and police were matched by difficult negotiations among the various political parties concerning the adoption of a new electoral system. The eventual outcome was the decision to move Lesotho away from the plurality (first-past-the-post) system inherited from Britain at independence (and which in 1993 and 1998 had provided highly imbalanced results favouring the winning party) towards a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system.
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Categories: Journal of African Elections