The Journal of Modern African Studies

Lesotho's general election of 1998: rigged or de rigeur?

Roger Southall Professor of Political Studies a1 and Roddy Fox Associate Professorof Geography a1 1
a1 Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa


The official result of Lesotho's general election of 1998, which saw a 79 out of 80 seat victory for the ruling Lesotho Congress of Democrats (LCD), was repudiated by the opposition, notably the former ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP). These latter parties were historic enemies but forged an alliance of convenience to contest the outcome of the election. By mobilising their supporters to occupy Maseru they successfully paralysed the capacity of the LCD to govern. After diplomatic preliminaries, this led to military intervention by South Africa and Botswana in September 1998 and their brokering of an agreement which restored the LCD to power, on the condition that a new election would be held within eighteen months, with the rules for that contest being discussed between the parties in the interim. That election has now been scheduled for April 2000.

The article reviews the conduct and result of the general election of 1998. It concludes that the opposition's objections were largely spurious, but notes that the unbalanced nature of the LCD's victory – a product of the first-past-the-post electoral system – was a major cause of the wider crisis. It therefore proposes that any lasting settlement of political differences in Lesotho is going to require a new electoral system which will allow for a more inclusive outcome.


1 The authors would like to thank the Centre for Science Development (now the National Research Foundation; Division for Social Sciences and Humanities) in South Africa for its provision of financial support for undertaking this research. The CSD/NRF is in no way responsible for the views that are expressed.