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Key findings
  • Fewer than half (48%) of Basotho support elections as the best way to choose their leaders, a drop of 25 percentage points from 73% in 2014. This is the lowest level of support for elections among 34 African countries surveyed in 2016/2018.
  • Support for multiparty competition has likewise dropped sharply, from 55% in 2014 to 36% in 2017.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of Basotho want their electoral system to switch back from the current mixed member proportional system to a majoritarian system.
  • After three elections that have resulted in coalition governments, three-quarters (76%) of Basotho say coalition governments are more unstable and have more difficulty getting things done than one-party governments.

Transparent, free, and fair elections are a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. But can there be too much of a good thing?

Lesotho has had three general elections in the past six years (in 2012, 2015, and 2017). Each failed to produce an outright winner and resulted in a coalition government. During the same period, the number of parties contesting elections grew sharply while voter turnout decreased.

Afrobarometer’s most recent survey in Lesotho shows a dramatic drop in popular support for elections: Basotho who prefer “other methods” now outnumber those who think elections are the best way to choose their country’s leaders.

One important factor may be the country’s electoral system. After violent protests against the election results of 1998, Lesotho switched from a first-past-the-post system (FPTP, in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins) to a two-ballot mixed member proportional system (MMP, in which parliamentary seats are apportioned in accordance with the percentage of votes that a political party receives). After the 2007 election result was contested, the electoral model was again amended to a one-ballot MMP system, which remains in place. While this system is designed to ensure fair representation in line with voters’ preferences, critics blame it for the inability of any one party to win power outright, resulting in coalition governments.

Just before beginning its winter recess in June, the National Assembly received a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, raising the possibility of another early election should the motion succeed (MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, 2019).

Here, too, Afrobarometer survey findings point to clear popular preferences: Most Basotho think coalition governments don’t work very well and would favour switching back to a majoritarian electoral system.

Libuseng Malephane

Libuseng Malephane is the national investigator for Lesotho.