Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. In recent years, the army’s involvement in the country’s already fragile politics has resulted in political instability and a security crisis. Corruption remains a challenge. Customary practice and law restrict women’s rights in areas such as property, inheritance, and marriage and divorce.
- General elections held in October were won by newly established party Revolution for Prosperity (RFP). Party founder and leader, businessman Sam Matekane, took office as prime minister later that month, forming a three-party coalition that controls a small majority in the parliament. The RFP overtook well-established parties that have controlled the country’s political landscape for the past decade.
- In September, the Constitutional Court declared the former prime minister’s decision to declare a state of emergency unconstitutional. He had attempted to use the state of emergency to push through constitutional and electoral reforms for the year’s elections; the court’s decision nullified the changes, and the polls were held under the old constitutional framework.
- In January, prominent human rights lawyer Napo Mafaesa was reportedly arrested and tortured by police after allegedly concealing a weapon belonging to his client. His own lawyer, who had filed an urgent application for his release, had to go into hiding after allegedly receiving death threats from the police.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. King Letsie III serves as the ceremonial head of state. The prime minister is head of government. The head of the majority party or coalition automatically becomes prime minister following elections.
General elections held in October 2022 were won by the newly established RFP. The RFP’s founder and leader, businessman Sam Matekane, took office as prime minister later that month, forming a three-party coalition with the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Movement for Economic Change (MEC).
The elections were hailed as peaceful, fair, and safe by various international observer missions. No security breaches and outcome-altering incidents were reported, though observers raised concerns about the accuracy of the voter roll and noted an uneven playing field amongst parties and candidates due to a lack of campaign finance regulations.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because Prime Minister Sam Matekane took office and formed a government after a free and fair parliamentary election.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, has 120 seats; 80 are filled through first-past-the-post constituency votes, and the remaining 40 through proportional representation (PR). The Senate—the upper house of Parliament—consists of 22 principal chiefs who wield considerable authority in rural areas and whose membership is hereditary, along with 11 other members appointed by the king and acting on the advice of the Council of State. Members of both chambers serve five-year terms.
In October 2022, the newly established RFP won 56 of 120 seats in the National Assembly, becoming the largest party in Parliament. The Democratic Congress (DC) won 29 seats while eight seats were won by the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the ruling party prior to the elections. The RFP formed a coalition government with the AD and the MEC, which combined had won nine seats. The 2022 general elections were hailed as credible and peaceful by various international observer missions and local observers.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has been commended for its independence and its administration of credible and fair elections, particularly in 2022, when it faced capacity and resource constraints. However, the IEC did incorrectly allocate four parliamentary seats following the 2022 polls, though the overall result of the election was not impacted by the error. It is unclear whether the IEC was able to successfully correct the allocation by year-end. Because more than 50 political parties contested the 2022 elections, the IEC struggled to enforce campaign regulations and provide adequate oversight of public funds disbursed to parties during the campaign.
The 2022 elections occurred without the enactment of much anticipated political and electoral reforms, which former prime minister Moeketsi Majoro attempted to push through by declaring a state of emergency. The High Court nullified the reforms before the election in September.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties may form freely, and registered parties are allocated funding by the IEC from the Consolidated Fund for expenses associated with campaigning. Parties represented in the National Assembly further receive funding on an annual basis in proportion to the number of seats they hold. Over 50 registered parties contested the 2022 elections, compared to 27 during the 2017 elections.
However, the IEC faces difficulties in regulating campaign funding and holding parties accountable for their use of public funds. The lack of restrictions on private campaign donations contributed to an uneven playing field during the 2022 elections.
Political instability and associated violence and intimidation has at times prompted opposition leaders to flee the country. The South African Development Community’s (SADC) years-long governance reform recommendations were not implemented prior to the 2022 elections.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because more political parties contested the October parliamentary elections than in previous contests, including a new party led by new Prime Minister Matekane.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections, and power has rotated frequently between DC- and ABC-led coalitions since 2012. The 2022 general elections continued the pattern of voters replacing incumbent governments. Formed in March 2022, the RFP overtook well-established parties that have controlled the country’s political landscape for the past decade.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because a coalition government led by a new political party took power after the free and fair October elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Lesotho has a long history of political instability largely related to disputes among factions of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and the politicization of security agencies in general. Election observers found no reports of voter interference by security forces during the 2022 elections.
Principal chiefs wield some political influence over their rural subjects. Some political parties, particularly the ABC and the DC, recruited members and used the music of famo music groups, implicated in deadly gang-related activities in both Lesotho and South Africa, during the 2022 elections, raising questions about the amount of influence they exert on elected officials.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution guarantees political rights for all. However, societal norms discourage women from running for office, despite the 2011 Electoral Act requires men and women to be listed alternately on parties’ candidate lists for the National Assembly. Women are often deprioritized on party lists. Only a quarter of parliamentarians elected in 2022 were women, and few women hold high-ranking positions.
Persons living with disabilities are not fully represented in government, and accessibility concerns were not addressed during elections. Although the IEC implemented procedures to facilitate assisted voting during the 2022 elections, many polling stations were inaccessible to persons with disabilities. LGBT+ individuals face societal discrimination and generally do not advocate for their rights in the political sphere. The SADC preliminary election report commended the inclusion of young people as candidates by several political parties: the youngest candidate was 18 years old.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The stability of the previous governing coalition was undermined by disagreements between coalition partners and factionalism within the ruling ABC, including unsuccessful attempts to oust Prime Minister Majoro. In March 2022, a physical altercation on the chamber floor occurred after a faction within the ABC announced it was withdrawing from the coalition government. That same month, Majoro survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence.
In August, then-Prime Minister Majoro declared a state of emergency to enable Parliament to reconvene and pass critical electoral and constitutional reforms meant to governance; for example, making it more difficult for lawmakers to remove the prime minister in a no-confidence vote or switch parties. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in September that Majoro had no basis to declare the emergency and that King Letsie III could not reconvene Parliament, thereby voiding the reform package.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Official corruption and impunity remain significant problems. The main anticorruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offence (DCEO), lacks full prosecutorial powers and faces capacity and funding challenges. The Asset Forfeiture Unit, which was established in 2016 to recover property connected to corruption cases, is largely ineffective. The DCEO has taken few corruption cases to court in recent years.
In June 2022, the DCEO and other agencies worked with counterparts in South Africa to recover 18.6 million Loti ($1.1 million) of the 50 million Loti ($3.1 million) in public funds that had been stolen and deposited into unregistered South African and Lesotho bank accounts, in addition to assets that had previously been reclaimed. In 2020, Parliament amended the DCEO Act to grant the agency powers to investigate money-laundering crimes beyond Lesotho’s borders. Anticorruption officials have claimed that individuals and companies have used state capture tactics to obtain immunity for corrupt dealings.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Lesotho has no access-to-information law, and responses to information requests are not guaranteed. Though reports on public debt are publicly available, the management of public finances is generally shrouded in secrecy. Government procurement decisions and tenders typically cannot be accessed online, though the government had made progress in publishing budget reports.
Although high-level government and elected officials are required to disclose their assets and business interests these declarations are not made public. Enforcement of the rules is limited by resource constraints.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Press freedom is indirectly protected under constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. However, journalists are subject to threats and intimidation from the authorities and private citizens, and women journalists are often harassed offline and online. The long-postponed trial of four soldiers allegedly behind the 2016 attempted murder of former Lesotho Times and Sunday Express editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, was further delayed in 2022.
Journalists additionally face statutory barriers that interfere in their work, including criminal code provisions that bar sedition and offenses against the “dignity of the royal family.” The Penal Code, adopted in 2010, allows police officers to force journalists to reveal their sources. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho, several long-awaited media reforms were quietly dropped from an omnibus reform bill that Parliament attempted to pass during the year, which MISA saw as a missed opportunity to address existing challenges.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides legal protections for freedom of religion and prohibits religious discrimination, and religious freedom is generally upheld in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected in practice, though the government does interfere in the administration of institutions of higher education.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution provides legal protections for freedom of expression. However, political violence in recent years has discouraged open political debate. In May 2022, the National Assembly passed and sent to the Senate the Computer Crimes and Cyber Security Bill. Local civil society organizations criticized the legislation as overly broad and reminiscent of previous criminal defamation laws. The bill was still being deliberated at year-end.
In October 2022, the government reportedly sought to cancel a controversial 500 million Loti ($30.7 million) tender to the Global Voice Group (GVG), whose technology would have enabled the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) to spy on citizens and monitor their online financial transactions illegally. The government claimed that the tender was fraudulently awarded by the former chief executive of the LCA, ‘Mamarame Matela.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Protests and demonstrations are permitted, but organizers must seek a permit seven days in advance. In May 2022, 35 demonstrators in the Thaba-Tseka District in Liseleng were beaten, tortured, and arrested by police while protesting month-long cuts to electricity in their village. In June, police reportedly opened fire with live ammunition at protesting students from the National University of Lesotho, killing at least one student and seriously injuring others. The last COVID-19-related restrictions, which included a ban on “strikes, protests, and social gatherings,” were lifted by August 2022.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without restrictions. However, some civil society groups act cautiously when working on politically sensitive issues. In addition, government rules on registering NGOs are strict; those who are accused of neglecting to register their organization risk a five-year prison sentence. No NGOs have been held to account for failure to register in recent years.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
While labor and union rights are constitutionally guaranteed, the union movement is weak and highly fragmented, and these challenges have undermined unions’ ability to advance the rights of workers—particularly in the country’s largest sector of employment, textiles. The government has previously been accused of undermining bodies like the National Advisory Committee on Labour (NACOLA), the Wages Advisory Board, and Industrial Relations Council. In July 2021, the labor minister announced plans to review the existing labor code and to establish a bargaining council intended to regulate and oversee employment conditions in the country. There were no reported significant developments on these issues in 2022.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution protects judicial independence, but according to a 2020 Lesotho Times report, the judicial system was on the verge of collapse due to a lack of funds and infrastructural disrepair. The judicial appointment process lacks full transparency, and members of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) at times act without proper oversight. However, the JSC conducted public interviews of judicial candidates in February 2022, and in March, seven new judges were finally appointed to the High Court following funding-related delays in 2021.
Judges do rule against the government, including on politically sensitive issues like the September 2022 decision to declare Prime Minister Majoro’s state of emergency declaration unconstitutional. High Court judges often fail to provide justification for their decisions.
In January 2022, Chief Justice Sakoane instituted an inquiry under the Speedy Court Trials Act and found lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, guilty of delaying a trial. Sakoane’s decision was overruled in a judgement by the Court of Appeal, which found that he had acted unlawfully and could be biased against Abrahams. The court ordered that Sakoane to recuse himself from the case.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
The courts generally uphold due process. However, a large backlog of cases, estimated in May 2022 to be more than 4,000, has left individuals subject to trial delays and lengthy pretrial detention, including in high-profile cases like the prosecution of former army commander Tlali Kamoli. Judicial vacancies often go unfilled due to a lack of funds, reducing the judiciary’s capacity to address the backlog and creating further delays. Amendments from 2021 to provisions of the Speedy Court Trials Act 2002 calls for trials of accused persons to begin within two months of first being remanded.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Lesotho faced years of violence related to factional disputes within the army; the SADC appointed a the National Reforms Authority in 2019 to create a reform process that would partially focus on the security sector, though these major reforms have not materialized.
The constitution provides legal protections against torture, but allegations of torture have been levied against police forces, the LDF, and prison authorities. In January 2022, prominent human rights lawyer Napo Mafaesa was reportedly arrested and tortured by the police after allegedly concealing a weapon belonging to his client. His own lawyer, who had filed an urgent application for his release, had to go into hiding after allegedly receiving death threats from the police. Many cases of police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and torture are unresolved.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Rights are restricted for some groups. Same-sex sexual activity is legal, though same-sex marriage remains prohibited. LGBT+ individuals face societal discrimination and challenges accessing services, like health care. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not prohibited by law.
Customary laws and other social norms discriminate against women. For example, women are considered minors under the guardianship of their fathers before marriage and their husbands after marriage.
Schools often lack facilities for students with disabilities. In March 2021, Parliament passed the Persons with Disability Equity Act, bringing the country’s laws into accord with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which it is a signatory. Under the new law, the government introduced a disability grant program for those living with disabilities in Lesotho and continued to make plans to establish a Disability Advisory Council that would assist with funds disbursement.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution protects freedom of movement, which is generally upheld. In recent years, a high incidence of rape on a path near the Ha Lebona and Ha Koeshe villages has prompted some women to reduce travel in the area.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution protects property rights, though related laws are inconsistently upheld. Women’s rights are restricted in areas such as property and inheritance, including chieftainships, which can only be inherited by men. In April 2022, the National Assembly and Senate passed legislation that enables widows to inherit and administer their deceased husbands’ estates. The law was awaiting the King’s assent at year-end.
Expropriation is provided for in the constitution but is uncommon and subject to fair compensation. Government instability and the country’s volatile politics hamper normal business activity. In 2020, Parliament adopted new regulations that will reserve a list of 47 business activities for the Basotho ethnic group. Foreigners can only participate in these activities as minority shareholders.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Prominent social norms and harmful patriarchal attitudes negatively affect women, and women’s rights are restricted in marriage and divorce. In 2020, the Commonwealth Secretariat reported that one in three women in Lesotho had experienced physical or sexual violence, often at the hands of their partners. Accountability for the perpetrators of gender-based violence (GBV) is not consistent. In July 2022, Parliament passed the legislation to address GBV and better support survivors. The bill was awaiting the King’s assent at the year’s end.
Forced and child marriages remain an ongoing problem. Parliament dissolved in July before it could consider proposed amendments to the Child Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 that would criminalize child marriages and introduce stiff penalties.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Human trafficking remains an ongoing challenge for Lesotho. Although the US State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report acknowledges that the government has made significant efforts in fighting the problem, it found that Lesotho authorities did not fully meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. In February 2022, Home Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa held awareness campaigns around the country warning citizens about the problem.
Child labor and forced labor for both men and women remain problems. In September 2021, the government introduced new visa requirements intended to further combat human trafficking in the country.
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