Human remains in the area now known as Lesotho go back as far as 40,000 years. The more modern society we see today came from Bantu speaking people who settled in the area and developed into the Basotho people.
In the 19th Century the area was invaded by the Zulus and then the Boers. The Basotho people were brought together by their first king, Moshoeshoe I in 1823. He went on to rule until his death in 1870, but during this period the kingdom still suffered from sporadic war with the Boers and occasionally the British.
Things got so bad that in 1868 the king agreed with the British that the area should become a protectorate. In 1871 after the king’s death the country was annexed to the Cape colony. Further fighting broke out, this time with the British, which resulted in it being returned to the control of the crown and being designated as the Territory of Basutoland.
In 1910 Basutoland was to be absorbed by the new Union of South Africa, but this was resisted by the people and the annexation was stopped. In 1959 a new constitution was drawn up and in 1965 the first democratic elections were held; the Basotho National Party (BNP) won 31 seats and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) won 25 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly.
The following year, on 4th October 1966 the country gained full independence with a constitutional monarchy and a bicameral parliament.
Following elections in 1970 Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan and the BNP refused to accept the result of the election and declared a national state of emergency, suspended the constitution, declared the election null and void and dissolved parliament. In 1973 an appointed National Assembly was convened and over the next few years the civil situation deteriorated as did relations with South Africa over the harboring of ANC rebels.
This led to a military takeover in 1986 and the handing over of executive and legislative powers to the King acting on the advice of the military.
In February 1990 King Moshoeshoe II was ousted by the chairman of the military council, General Justin Lekhanya and exiled. Lekhanya in turn was ousted in in 1991 by a group of junior officers.
In 1993 a new constitution was introduced which stripped the King of any executive powers. Fresh elections were held in which the BCP won all 65 seats in a landslide election. Although there were further coup attempts and civil unrest, the government managed to get to the 1998 election, although internal problems in the BCP led to defections and the formation of a new ruling party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
In the 1998 election the LCD won 79 of the 80 seats in the now enlarged National Assembly. The size of the win led to accusations of electoral fraud and subsequent violent demonstrations and another coup attempt. Order was eventually restored by a South African Development Community (SADC) force. As a result of these demonstrations a new structure for parliament was approved which led to the original 80 seats being elected directly and a further 40 seats being elected by proportional representation.
The subsequent election in 2002 saw the LCD win 77 of the constituency seats but none of the proportional seats in the enlarged 120 seat parliament. The Basotho National Party picked up 21 seats and an additional eight parties picked up some seats.
Infighting within the LCD further eroded their power base when Tom Thabane left them in 2006 along with 17 other MPs and formed a new party called the All Basotho Convention (ABC). In the 2007 general election the LCD won 62 seats, just enough to form a government, and the ABC came third with 17 seats.
Pakalitha Mosisili had been Prime Minister since 1998 but increasingly he found himself at odds with the senior members of his faction riven party. In 2011 the Prime Minister had had enough and left the LCD to form the Democratic Congress (DC). He took enough supporters with him to remain in power and in the 2012 general election his Democratic Congress won 48 of the 120 seats to make it the largest party. Tom Thabane’s ABC won 30 seats and the LCD was reduced to 26 seats.
A degree of animosity had been building up against Prime Minister Mosisili and he was unable to form a majority coalition government, ending 14 years in power as Prime Minister. Instead it was Tom Thabane and a coalition of parties including the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BCP) who formed the new government.
All seemed set for a new era of politics but in 2014, following a controversial change of Army commander, an apparent coup d’etat took place in an attempt to oust Prime Minister Tom Thabane. The Prime Minister fled the country and sought refuge in South Africa.
With the help of the South Africans Thabane returned to Lesotho and a deal was hammered out which was called the Maseru Facilitation Declaration and which would lead to an early general election in 2015.
That election took place on 28th February 2015 and left Thabane’s ABC with 46 seats, an increase of 16 seats but still one less than Mosisili’s Democratic Congress on 47 seats. The LCD continued its decline, dropping to 14 seats with seven other parties taking one or two seats each.
After the election Pakalitha Mosisili returned as Prime Minister having hammered out a coalition deal between the Democratic Congress the LCD and five other small parties.
King Letsie III is Chief of State.
There is a bicameral parliament comprising the Senate with 33 members, 22 Principal Chiefs and 11 others. The National Assembly has 120 seats, 80 elected by direct popular vote and 40 by proportional vote to serve 5 year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Lesotho at joint 83rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 39 (where 100 is least corrupt).