- Lesotho has a history of coups and political instability. The technical count for successful coups in Lesotho is three, having occurred in 1986, 1991 and 1994. The first two coups were initiated by the military, and the 1994 coup was committed by Lesotho’s King (Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy), who dismissed a newly elected government following opposition parties’ claims that the election was rigged. A mutiny in the Lesotho Defence Force main army barracks following the 1998 elections was followed just days later with the aforementioned military intervention by South Africa and Botswana.
- Based on a number of relevant data points, Lesotho has high risk for a coup. Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist whose analysis focuses on political instability, predicted Lesotho to have a relatively high risk for a coup attempt in 2014, ranking it in the top 25 in the world for 2014.
- The first two reasons why a coup was probable last week are latent characteristics of Lesotho’s political situation. They would have needed some spark to start the fire. That spark was the perceived unraveling of a fragile political coalition in Lesotho’s parliament. Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, leader of the All Basotho Congress party, was accused by his coalition partners of acting “unilaterally without consulting other partners.” An obvious example was PM Thabane’s recent suspension (a.k.a. prorogation) of Parliament for nine months. A junior coalition member, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party, had threatened to pull out of government and seek to form a new governing coalition that would exclude the current PM. Prorogation of Parliament allowed PM Thabane to avoid a vote of no confidence.
Still, there are also reasons why I’m not worried there will be a coup in Lesotho.
- Despite Lesotho’s history with coups, a major change in Lesotho’s political institutions just over a decade ago led to increased public support for and satisfaction with democracy. Political scientists Wonbin Cho and Michael Bratton showed that Lesotho’s shift from a majoritarian to a mixed electoral system in 2002 led not just to greater inclusion of smaller, opposition parties in government, but also to higher levels of mass satisfaction with democracy and public trust in political institutions.
- The most recent nationally representative survey data from Lesotho shows continued support for democracy. In the 2012 Afrobarometer survey in Lesotho, 70 percent of respondents didn’t approve of a one-party state — and perhaps more importantly 83 percent disapproved of military governments.
- Lesotho’s military has been shifting from a destabilizing factor to a depoliticized and professional force, according to the work of political economist Khabele Matlosa.
Almost immediately after the South African statement was released, there were reports that Lesotho’s parties agreed to remain in their “shaky coalition government.” Although the three coalition parties were expected to review and submit their coalition agreement to the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) today, no media agencies have reported developments.