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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 16:22 GMT
Q&A: Lesotho legislative elections
Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili
Mosisili's opponents include the new All Basotho Convention party

Voters in the tiny, landlocked southern Africa kingdom of Lesotho go to the polls on 17 February to elect new members of parliament. The elections were originally scheduled for April or May 2006, but King Letsie III dissolved parliament on 24 November 2006 to pave the way for an early election.

What is at stake?

The elections come as the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) faces accusations of failing to deliver on the promises of the last elections. This has led to a wave of defections from the party.

The opposition alleges that the prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, called early elections to stem defections from his party. The LCD had 61 MPs in the outgoing House of 120 members.

Some opposition parties like the Basotholand African National Congress (BANC) have expressed concern that the ruling party and the electoral commission might have rigged the polls in favour of the LCD.

However, Premier Mosisili has denied the claims and expressed confidence that the LCD will return to power. He has also accused the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party of "working in cahoots with foreign elements to destabilise the country".

How does the electoral system work?

The parliament is bicameral. The upper House, Senate, is made up of 33 members - 22 principal chiefs and 11 ordinary members. All of them are royal appointees.

The lower House, National Assembly, has 120 members. Voters directly elect 80 of them, while the remaining 40 are allocated to parties under the proportional representation system.

The elections will be overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Its three members are all royal appointees. The body declares the final results and allocates proportional representation seats to parties seven days after the elections.

Candidates must be either nominated by registered parties or stand as independents. Candidates must also pay a contesting fee of some $28. The exact number of candidates for the 2007 poll is unclear but the electoral body has cleared 93 independent candidates.

What was the outcome of the last elections?

Lesotho's last held legislative polls in May 2002. The LCD won 79 of the 80 contested constituencies. A breakaway LCD faction, the Lesotho People's Congress (LPC), won the remaining seat.

The Basotho National Party did not win any seats in the direct elections but was allocated 21 of the 40 seats through the proportional system. This made it the official opposition.

The Commonwealth Observer Group said the vote was free.

Which are the main political parties?

Three parties dominate the country's politics. They are the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Basotho National Party (BNP).

The LCD has been in power for the past 10 years. The ABC is a new party, which was formed in November 2006 by 18 MPs who defected from the LCD. The BNP is a pre-independence party and was once a ruling party.

The electoral commission has set aside about $70,000 for the total of 19 parties as part of their campaign finances.

Will the elections be free and fair?

Opposition parties have protested against the election date and lack of access to state media. They have also criticised the financial allocation from the government as meagre.

Will there be any foreign observers?

Observers from the South African Development Council and the US-based National Democratic Institute are expected to monitor the poll.

Have parties had equal access to the media?

There have been complaints that the state media is biased against the opposition. The electoral commission took action on 18 January by appointing a three-man team to ensure equal access.

The team has recommended that each party be granted a single one-hour slot on both the radio and television to present its manifesto.

On 25 January, the Department of Broadcasting begun allocating slots to parties. According to the director of broadcasting, Lebohang Moqasa, the broadcasts were due to run every day until 15 February.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Lesotho
17 Oct 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Lesotho
20 Dec 06 |  Country profiles

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