The Interim Political Authority Act of 1998 was created to establish an authority to facilitate and promote, in conjunction with the legislative and executive structures in Lesotho, the preparations for the holding of general elections. The primary function of the IPA is to create and promote conditions conducive to the holding of free and fair elections and to level the playing field for all political parties and candidates. These conditions also include the establishment of a new electoral system.
The IPA consists of representatives from the following political parties: LCD, BCP, BNP, MFP, Sefate Democratic Union (SDU), National Progressive Party (NPP), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Kopanang Basotho Party (KBP), Lesotho Labour Party / United Democratic Party (LLP/UDP), Lesotho Education Party (LEP), Christian Democratic Party (CDP), and National Independence Party (NIP). Each party has two members on the IPA, bringing the total membership to 24.
The IPA has the power to review the constitution, the IEC, the Lesotho electoral system and the Electoral Code of Conduct and to make appropriate recommendations to the relevant public institutions on its structures and functions with a view to making it more democratic and representative of the people of Lesotho. Theoretically, decisions of the IPA are binding on all political parties and candidates participating in the elections.
It remains to be seen whether the IPA will be successful in their attempt to reach agreement on the creation of conditions conducive to free and fair elections.
Section 66(1) of the constitution, as amended in 1997, provides for the establishment of an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The IEC consists of three members appointed by the King upon advice of the State Council. The IEC's purpose is to ensure that elections are held regularly, freely and fairly. Moreover, it is responsible for organising, conducting and supervising elections, delimiting constituency boundaries, registering voters and conducting voter education.
The autonomy of the IEC is disputed amongst opposition parties. Although section 66c of the constitution, states that the IEC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, the IEC is funded by and accountable to Parliament. Moreover, the Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs regulates any legislation that pertains to the IEC.
The current IEC is comprised of three new members appointed in April 2000: Abel Leshele Thoahlane (Chair), Mafole Sematlane and Mokhele Rantsie Likate. The Director of Elections is Khothatso Ralitsie.
The IEC is faced with a difficult three-way balancing act. First, the IEC must ensure that its own house is in order. To this end, the IEC has recently undertaken an organisational audit to prepare itself for the elections, whatever the outcome of the long-awaited political settlement. Second, the IEC must also not be seen to run too far ahead of the pack, and must be prepared to accommodate the decisions of the IPA and the government. Third, this three-way act is itself unfolding against the backdrop of an international donor community, South Africa and SADC, anxious to avoid a repeat of the 1998 post-election strife.
Most analysts ascribe Lesotho's problems to its FPTP electoral system. Matlosa believes that had Lesotho adopted either a proportional representation (PR) or a mixture of PR and FPTP electoral systems after independence in 1966, participation and representation would have been engrained in the political culture of Lesotho. Thus, political parties would have been able to form coalitions and alliances and in so doing would have instilled a political arena of cooperation and legitimacy (Matlosa 1999).
In order for the 2001 election results to be accepted it is imperative that Lesotho build legitimacy for its electoral system to broaden participation in the political system and encourage effective parliamentary opposition. A PR or a mixed PR and FPTP electoral would ensure the relative stability of the political system based upon a multi-party parliament with opposition parties participating constructively in the process of governance. Most importantly, the people of Lesotho must feel that their political representatives have been elected in properly conducted elections. In the absence of this consensus building around the electoral process, any outcome is likely to be greeted with scepticism or rejection.
ALL AFRICA 2000a, 31 October.
ALL AFRICA 2000b, 24 October.
CNN 1998, 24 September.
MATLOSA, K 1999 "Elections and Election Administration", EISA.