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Working paper

WP32: The state of democracy in Lesotho

John Gay and Robert Mattes 1 Mar 2004 Lesotho
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In 2002,after decades of discontent and oppression, Lesotho went to the polls to elect a government acceptable to the great majority of its citizens. The fears of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (that the opposition would stir up more trouble) and of the opposition (that their voices would never again be heard) were quieted by the election and installation of a new and much more balanced parliament. Eighty members won a plurality of votes in their constituencies, while another 40 were elected under a complex system of proportional representation. While the final distribution of seats for each party did not exactly match their shares of the national vote, it came close enough to satisfy most people. This is reflected in the strongly upbeat attitudes expressed in a 2003 Afrobarometer survey of 1200 adult Basotho conducted between 24 February and 7 April 2003 as part of Round 2 of the Afrobarometer.

Comparisons to the first Afrobarometer survey, conducted in 2000, reveal, for example, that Basotho feel that the extent and quality of their democracy has improved markedly, although they are considerably less upbeat about the state of the economy. In short, respondents appear to believe that their country is now on the right path to progress, despite the serious economic obstacles they face. It is up to the government and foreign investment to help the economic sphere catch up with the political sphere. It might be said that the respondents are demonstrating the priority of politics over economics, but it is not likely that priority will remain firm if the economy remains sluggish and unemployment remains high.

John Gay

John Gay is a member of Sechaba Consultants, Lesotho, a private research and consulting firm.

Robert Mattes

Robert Mattes is a professor of government and public policy at the University of Strathclyde and a co-founder of Afrobarometer.