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A New Voting System in Place for Lesotho's Parliamentary Elections - 2002-05-24

Citizens of Lesotho will vote Saturday in parliamentary elections. And officials are hoping a new electoral system will help the country avoid the chaos, military revolt and foreign intervention that followed the last election in 1998. Challiss McDonough

Four years after the disastrous 1998 general elections, the electoral system in Lesotho has been completely overhauled. The new system is designed to give opposition parties a voice in parliament, which they have lacked for most of the nation's history.

The 1998 elections ended in chaos after one party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, or LCD, took every seat in parliament, except one.

The LCD took 60 percent of the popular vote nation-wide, but managed to win a majority in almost every constituency. So, even though opposition parties won 40 percent of the vote, they ended up with only a single seat in parliament.

Soldiers who supported the opposition mutinied. The government called on neighboring countries South Africa and Botswana to send troops to help restore order. By the time the crisis ended, at least 75 people were killed.

This year, the ruling party and the opposition agreed on a new electoral system, which should fundamentally change the political landscape in Lesotho. The spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission, Rethabile Pholo, thinks there should be no trouble this time around.

"What happened in 1998 came as a result of the opposition parties crying foul to the outcome of the election," he said. "And in this particular election, [what] we are going for now is an election with a difference. It is the first of its type in Africa, so I am told. And it is all-inclusive in one way or another. It is going to include even the smallest parties."

In the new voting system, voters will fill out two ballots, one for an individual candidate in their district and one for a political party.

The party ballots will be tabulated nationally, and 40 seats in parliament will be awarded on the basis of proportional representation. The other 80 seats will go to the candidates who win each constituency.

Mr. Pholo of the Independent Electoral Commission believes the system will give opposition parties a real voice in parliament for the first time in Lesotho's history. "It is not going to be like the winner takes all," he said. "Everybody is going to share."

Mr. Pholo notes that people are excited about the changes. One voter, Lekhanya Lekyanya, plans to split his ticket, voting for different parties. "I think it gives each and everybody a chance," he said.