Q&A: Lesotho parliamentary elections

A woman stands near an election poster in Maseru on May 24, 2012 two days ahead of the southern African state of Lesotho"s parliamentary elections. Image copyright AFP

On 26 May, the Basotho - the people of Lesotho - will be going to the polls to elect a new parliament amid fears of a renewal of electoral violence such as that which led to military intervention by neighbouring South Africa and Botswana in 1998.

During a visit at the behest of the United Nations, Archbishop Desmond Tutu extracted a pledge from political leaders to keep the peace and respect the election results.

However, the reaction of the Basotho should the election result in a hung parliament, as some have predicted, has observers worried.

What is the electoral system?

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament but the upper house (the Senate) is non-elected. The lower house (the National Assembly) is elected through a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system: 80 members are elected in first-past-the-post constituency elections, 40 by proportional representation.

What are the issues?

There has been criticism of this election campaign - that the contenders have concentrated on personalities rather than the issues affecting the country.

The country has one of the world's highest HIV/Aids prevalence rates with almost a quarter of the adult population believed to be HIV-positive, according to UN figures.

The problem of poverty, especially in the rural areas, is compounded by high unemployment.

Lesotho has been heavily dependent on South Africa, which completely surrounds it. But economic woes in South Africa have seen migrant Basotho workers, and especially miners, losing their jobs in South Africa.

There is rising tension between the Basotho and Chinese nationals following an influx of Asian traders who have established competitive ventures that have driven some Basotho out of business.

What are the main parties?

Fifteen political parties have fielded candidates for the country's 120 parliamentary seats. There are also several independent candidates.

The main battle is between Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC), Mothetjoa Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Tom Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC).

These three parties are all splinters of one party and have made similar pledges to the electorate. They lack divergent views and there is no clear favourite in the run-up to the polls.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili may not secure a clear majority

Democratic Congress (DC)

The Democratic Congress was formed in February 2012 by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who left the LCD taking with him 45 of the 62 MPs, including the speaker. He has been prime minister since 1997.

Mr Mosisili survived an assassination attempt that killed one of his sons in 2009, a year after he formed the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, itself a splinter of the Basutoland Congress Party.

He has capitalised on achievements made while he was premier to win voters in rural areas. These include free primary education, free anti-retroviral drugs for the HIV-positive and a pension scheme for the elderly.

But he is also accused of not having optimised the potential of the mining industry and some critics feel that he has been in power too long.

Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)

The LCD party was formed 15 years ago. Its leader, Mr Metsing, is a former communications and foreign affairs minister and holds an MBA from the University of Netherlands.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mothejoa Metsing's LCD wants to improve relations with South Africa

The party acknowledges the disunity within its ranks that led to mass defections in 2006 and again in February 2012.

But the party has enjoyed support across the country and has set up structures in villages, mines and small communities.

On its website it says it hopes to create an economically prosperous country. Its election manifesto centred on improving relations with South Africa, tackling unemployment and reforming natural resources policy to provide the government with a larger share of profits from mining.

All Basotho Convention (ABC)

ABC was set up by Mr Thabane, after he crossed the floor in 2006. He has held various ministerial positions, including health secretary and foreign affairs.

The party's support base is largely urban and it enjoys labour union backing. But it has struggled to win favour among the large rural population that makes up over 70% of the population.

In its manifesto, ABC has pledged to fight poverty and create employment opportunities. Unlike the other main parties it has also highlighted the issue of growing tension between the Basotho and Chinese traders.

Who may vote?

There is universal suffrage at 18 years of age and voter registration is compulsory. Roughly half the country's population of around 2,2 million is entitled to vote and some - mostly security personnel, health workers and the media - voted in advance on 19 May.

Are there observers?

Observer missions have been sent by the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth.

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