Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Lesotho’s political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 and its status from Free to Partly Free due to unresolved disputes over legislative seats from the 2007 and 2008 elections and a breakdown in internationally mediated negotiations between the government and opposition.
Unknown gunman opened fire on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s home in April 2009 in an apparent assassination attempt, which was widely linked to continuing disputes between the ruing Lesotho Congress for Democracy and opposition parties over results from the 2007 snap legislative elections and 2008 by-elections. Positions on both sides hardened in 2009, and in September, mediation efforts by the Southern African Development Community failed after Lesotho’s government refused to negotiate any longer.
Drought has plagued the country since 2001, leading to critical food shortages and the dependence of some 450,000 people on food aid. Lesotho is also scarred by an adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of about 24 percent, one of the world’s highest. The government announced in 2005 that it would offer free HIV testing to all citizens, the first such program in the world. By the end of 2006, approximately 28,000 of the country’s 58,000 infected citizens were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.
Lesotho is an electoral democracy. King Letsie III serves as ceremonial head of state. Under a system introduced in 2002, 80 of the 120 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, are filled by first-past-the-post constituency votes, and 40 are filled by proportional representation. Members serve five-year terms, and the leader of the majority party becomes prime minister. The Senate, the upper house of Parliament, consists of Lesotho’s 22 traditional principal chiefs, who wield considerable authority in rural areas, and 11 other members appointed on the advice of the prime minister.
The constitution bars gender-based discrimination, but customary practice and law still restrict women’s rights in areas including property and inheritance. While their husbands are alive, women married under customary law have the status of minors in civil courts and may not enter into binding contracts. Domestic violence is reportedly widespread, but is becoming less socially acceptable. In 2006, the government implemented a policy of improved medical care for victims of rape. A 2005constitutional amendment reserves a third of the seats in municipal councilsfor women.