Lesotho: Reforms For Stability Are Uncertain Ahead Of Elections

Reforms should have come before voting, but their passage now depends on the promises of political parties.

Lesotho citizens will vote on October 7 amid uncertainty about the future of the much reforms that were announced null and void at the last minute. Security forces’ brutality and violence also pose a threat to the elections, which are being contested by over 50 political parties.

Numerous observer groups, including the first-ever major European Union (EU) mission, are in the country. The EU has backed the reform process, which was expected to result in changes to electoral laws before the elections.

The reforms, which are intended to usher in a new era of stability in Lesotho, are the result of years of negotiations between political parties, civil society, and other stakeholders, mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In May, all of Parliament’s major parties pledged to pass the so-called Omnibus Constitutional Bill by the end of June. It modifies key provisions concerning political parties, floor-crossing in Parliament, the appointment of senior officials, and the prime minister’s role. This was done to ensure that the new legislation was passed before Parliament was dissolved 90 days before the elections.

The National Assembly Electoral Bill and the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2022, however, were not approved in time. Progress was slowed by disagreements over the bill’s components, particularly those between the Senate and Parliament.

Lesotho’s Council of State suggested that Parliament be reconvened for an urgent session to enact the law before the elections in response to pressure from a number of sources, including SADC and South Africa. The only legal means of recalling Parliament, it suggested that King Letsie III proclaim a state of emergency to call for elections.

The monarch, who lacks administrative authority, acted on the advice of the Council and Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who claimed that the stability of Lesotho would be jeopardized if the legislation were not passed. He added that there was also a risk to the nation’s relationships with important allies and the SADC. On August 16, coincidentally, the SADC was gathering in Kinshasa for its annual conference when the state of emergency was declared.

The SADC views the reforms in Lesotho as a significant accomplishment and an illustration of how it might act to support nations in stabilizing their politics for the benefit of their population. The SADC’s present engagement began in 2014, when it intervened to put an end to unrest and bloodshed after the previous prime minister was overthrown. A small military intervention force was also dispatched in 2017 to ensure stability.

On 12 September, a former journalist and the Law Society of Lesotho successfully challenged the constitutionality of the reform laws, and the Constitutional Court ruled in their favor. The majority of legal experts concur with the court’s claim that the state of emergency wasn’t necessary.


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