Lesotho gained independence on October 4, 1966. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) looked set to lose the first post-independence general elections when Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan annulled the election. He refused to cede power to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and imprisoned its leadership.
The BNP ruled by decree until January 1986 when a military coup forced them out of office. The Military Council that came into power granted executive powers to King Moshoeshoe II, which was until then a ceremonial monarch. In 1987, however, the King was forced into exile after a falling out with the army. His son was installed as King Letsie III.
The Chairman of the military junta, Major General Metsing Lekhanya, was ousted in 1991 and then replaced by Major General Phisoane Ramaema, who handed power to a democratically elected government of the BCP in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile in 1992 as an ordinary citizen. His son abdicated in his favor in 1995, but Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996 and was again succeeded
by his son, Letsie III. The ruling BCP split over leadership disputes in 1997.
Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle formed a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and was followed by a majority of Members of Parliament, which enabled him to form a new government. The LCD won the general elections in 1998 under the leadership of Pakalitha Mosisili, who had succeeded Mokhehle as party leader. Despite the elections being pronounced free and fair by local and
international observers and a subsequent special commission appointed by SADC, the opposition political parties rejected the results.
Opposition protest in the country intensified, culminating in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in August 1998. Looting, casualties, and widespread destruction of property followed. When junior members of the armed services mutinied in September, the government requested a SADC task force to intervene to prevent a coup and restore stability. A military group of South
African and Botswana troops entered the country in September, put down the mutiny and withdrew in May 1999.
An Interim Political Authority (IPA), charged with reviewing the electoral structure in the country, was created in December 1998. The IPA devised a proportional electoral system to ensure that there be opposition in the National Assembly. The new system retained the existing 80 elected Assembly seats, but added 40 seats to be filled on a proportional basis. Elections were held under this new
system in May 2002 and the LCD won again. For the first time, however, opposition political parties won significant numbers of seats. Nine opposition parties hold all 40 of the proportional seats, with the BNP having the largest share (21). The LCD has 79 of the 80 constituency based seats. Although its elected members participate in the National Assembly, the BNP has launched several legal
challenges to the elections; none has been successful.