The Basotho National Party (BNP), formerly the Basutoland National Party, was founded in 1959 and was in the forefront of Lesotho's independence drive. The BNP long stood for maintaining diplomatic relations with South Africa and for a cautious approach to cooperation with other African states, in an attitude of "choose our friends but live with our neighbors." However, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the BNP played a more active role in opposing apartheid. By 1998, BNP had become the leading opposition party, as the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) took power.
The Basotho Congress Party (BCP), founded in 1952 and formerly known as the Basutoland African Congress, is an outspoken Pan-Africanist party. The first party to demand independence, it subsequently opposed the "premature" granting of independence to a minority government. The third major party is the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP). This party was formed in 1965 by the merger of two parties that had supported the chieftaincy.
In the general election held on 29 April 1965, the BNP won 31 seats, the BCP 25 seats, and the MFP 4 seats in the National Assembly. Chief Jonathan was himself defeated in the election, and Sekhonyana Maseribane was appointed prime minister. Chief Jonathan won a by-election on 1 June and assumed the office of prime minister. The two opposition parties, which together had polled 56.2% of the vote to 41.6% for the BNP (with 2.2% of the vote going to others), in an election in which only 62% of those eligible had voted, joined forces to protest Britain's granting of independence to a minority government. They also called for a more even distribution of executive power between the prime minister and the chief of state, and appealed to the UN, the Commonwealth, and the OAU in an unsuccessful bid to have the independence agreement rescinded.
The BCP claimed it had won 33 seats in the 60-seat National Assembly in the January 1970 general elections; the BNP won 23 seats, and the ballots for 4 seats had not been counted. Confusion over the outcome of the 1970 election (in which the United Democratic Party and the Communist Party participated but won no seats) resulted in suspension of the constitution by Prime Minister Jonathan, and political activities of opposition parties were subsequently restricted. Prime Minister Jonathan appointed two members of opposition parties to his cabinet in November 1975. The BCP then split into two factions: members of one accepted government posts, while leaders of the other organized an armed insurgency in exile.
The March 1993 election was contested by more than a dozen parties, but the chief vote getters were the BCP, still headed by Dr. Mokhehle, and the BNP, led by Evaristus Sekhonyana. Among the others are the MFP, the United Democratic Party (UDP), and the Communist Party of Lesotho (CPL). The BCP held all elected seats in the National Assembly, despite having won just over half the vote.
Since 1998, the dominant political party has been the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy or LCD under the leadership of Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili. LCD won just over 60% of the votes in the May 1998 parliamentary elections. The major opposition parties included: the Basotho National Party (BNP); the Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) led by Molapo Qhobela (24% of the 1998 vote); the Lesotho Labor Party/United Democratic Party Alliance (LLP/UDP) led by Charles Mofeli and Mamolefi Ranthimo; the Marematlou Freedom Party or MFP; the National Progressive Party or NPP; and the Sefate Democratic Union (SDU).
In the 25 May 2002 parliamentary election, the LCD garnered 54% of the vote, the BNP 21%, the LPC 7%, and other parties took 18%. With the number of seats expanded from 80 to 120, the breakdown by party was: LCD 76, BNP 21, LPC 5, and other parties 18. Although opposition parties objected to the results, independent observers described the elections as free, fair, peaceful, lawful and transparent—a model for Southern Africa. Next elections were due in 2007.