Lesotho: Restoration of Lesotho's independence Extracted from: "Lesotho" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 91-92.

Lesotho: Restoration of Lesotho's independence
Extracted from: "Lesotho" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 91-92.

The formation of the main political parties precipitated the introduction of representative self-government and the creation of a legislative council in 1959-1960. The crucial difference from the previous dispensation was that people could vote for the first time, though the franchise was extended only to adult male taxpayers. Formally known as the Basutoland National Council (not to be confused with the previous Basutoland Council), the new 80-member legislature was to consist of 40 nominated and indirectly elected members each.

Independnets and candidates put up by the BCP, MFP and BNP contested the district council elections in January 1960. Electoral colleges of the various district councils then elected 40 members of the legislative council. The largest district council (Maseru), was entitled to elect eight members and the smallest district councils only three each. Having won the majority of district council seats, the BCP sent 30 representatives to the legislative council, the MFP five and the BNP one. Four independents made it to the legislature. Only about 24% of the registered voters cast their ballots, indicating that most were either ignorant of the electoral process or could not be persuaded by the political parties to register or to vote for them.

With Britain retaining executive powers and without an overall majority in the legislative council, Mokhehle's BCP acted as the official opposition and began agitating for further constitutional progress and a swift end to British rule. Constitutional talks began in 1962 and culminated in a new constitution in 1965. This provided for responsible self-government and independence, if so desired. A typical Westminster-style political system was created, with the paramount chief in a non-executive position (representing the British queen) and a prime minister with executive powers, heading the government. The legislature was to be bicameral, consisting of a national assembly of 60 members elected in single-member constituencies, and a senate made up of the 22 principal chiefs and other royal nominees.

Surprisingly, the first general election in April 1965, was won by the BNP, though with a slender majority of two seats (See 1965 National Assembly election results). As prime minister, Chief Jonathan started negotiations with the British government to expedite independence. The BCP did its utmost to block this process as it did not wish to be lead to independence by Jonathan whom it suspected of authoritarian tendencies. Despite its lack of enthusiasm for the monarchy, the BCP now supported the arguments of the MFP, that the future king be vested with certain executive powers, such as responsibility for foreign affairs and control of the armed forces. Moshoeshoe II joined the political debate by warning that the Westminster system was unsuitable for Lesotho and that it was contrary to Basotho custom to have a mere constitutional monarch as head of state.

However, the opposition parties failed in their quest as both chambers of parliament voted in favour of independence, which was granted on 4 October 1966. The independence constitution differed very little from the previous one, except that King Moshoeshoe now became the non-executive head of state of the Kingdom of Lesotho. Yet the relations between the king and the prime minister continued to deteriorate. Fearing that the king might obstruct the passage of legislation by refusing to give his assent, Jonathan had, shortly before independence, amended the constitution giving the prime minister the power to sign any legislation passed by parliament if the king refused to do so. In December 1966, the king defied Jonathan by addressing a large political meeting at Thaba Bosiu. The king was placed under house arrest until he agreed not to address any gathering without the government's permission. Moshoeshoe further agreed that if he failed to observe the ban on his interference in politics he would have been deemed to have abdicated as king.

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