Le­sotho polls: A his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive

Lesotho Times - - Elections 2015 -

In 1993, the coun­try re­turned to con­sti­tu­tional rule and had elec­tions un­der First– Past-the–post (FPTP) elec­toral sys­tem in­her­ited from the Bri­tish, in 65 con­stituen­cies.

This elec­tion was run by Tha­bang Tsep­ane as Chief Elec­toral Of­fi­cer with tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance from Com­mon­wealth ex­perts, noel Lee and Joslyn Lu­cas.

The Ba­su­toland Congress Party ( BCP) had 100 per­cent rep­re­sen­ta­tion with its 74 per­cent of sup­port; the Ba­su­toland na­tional Party (BNP) had 23 per­cent sup­port with no rep­re­sen­ta­tion to­gether with oth­ers.

Be­fore the end of his term, Prime Min­is­ter ntsu Mokhehle left the BCP — the party that put him in gov­ern­ment — and formed the Le­sotho Congress for Democ­racy (LCD), and went away with 40 of the 65 Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPS), thus tech­ni­cally and con­sti­tu­tion­ally speak­ing, turn­ing the BCP into an op­po­si­tion party with­out fresh elec­tions.

The BCP cried foul as the Speaker just an­nounced that those who re­mained in the BCP should va­cate their seats on the gov­ern­ment side and move to the op­po­si­tion bench with­out ver­i­fy­ing how many were leav­ing the party. Com­pro­mis­ing the par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure over the dic­tates of the head of the ex­ec­u­tive, the Speaker and cus­to­dian of par­lia­men­tary supremacy let the prime min­is­ter off the hook in a sit­u­a­tion that could have oth­er­wise taught Ba­sotho some few lessons re­gard­ing the change of power-con­fig­u­ra­tions in par­lia­ment.

The bit­ter­ness within the BCP and other par­ties set the tone for the 1998 poll. This time, the coun­try went for elec­tions un­der the man­age­ment of an In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (IEC) made of Sekara Mafisa, Morena Let­jea Qho­bela and Morie Khae­bana. Be­fore the elec­tions, par­ties, in par­tic­u­lar the BNP, de­manded the IEC to pro­vide the vot­ers’ roll in the form and man­ner pre­scribed by the law, and even de­manded the de­fer­ment of the polls.

The is­sue ap­peared to have been a strate­gic cur­tain-raiser in fiercely re­ject­ing re­sults which gave the LCD 79 of the then 80 con­stituen­cies, with one go­ing to the BNP. The protest mounted by the BNP, BCP, MFP and oth­ers on the one hand and the han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion by the LCD gov­ern­ment on the other, demon­strated power con­tes­ta­tions that af­fected the se­cu­rity sec­tor.

This war­ranted South African mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion fol­lowed by Botswana, later to be dubbed South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) in­ter­ven­tion by in­vi­ta­tion of the prime min­is­ter. In re­quest­ing mil­i­tary as­sis­tance, Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili wrote to Pres­i­dent nel­son Man­dela of South Africa stat­ing that: “I wish to ur­gently re­quest your Ex­cel­lency to come to the res­cue of my gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple of Le­sotho.

The only in­ter­ven­tion I can and do re­quest is of a mil­i­tary na­ture… This morn­ing the sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened … Fur­ther se­ri­ous threats be­ing made in­clude ab­duct­ing min­is­ters, killing the Prime Min­is­ter and For­eign Af­fairs min­is­ter at any time.

The most se­ri­ous tragedy is that the po­lice, and in par­tic­u­lar the army, are at best spec­ta­tors … we have coup on our hands…” Although this re­sulted in ar­son and the torch­ing of Maseru and other towns, the bru­tal killing of Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) mem­bers at Katse Dam and Makoanyane re­sulted in two diplo­matic out­comes which gave Le­sotho a di­rec­tion out of the cri­sis.

The first was the estab­lish­ment of a com­mis­sion to in­quire into al­le­ga­tions of vo­terig­ging. Mr Langa re­ported that the BNP could have ac­tu­ally won two in­stead of one con­stituency but in­stead of say­ing whether there was rig­ging or not, he was not able to con­firm the rig­ging or re­fute fraud.

The ir­rec­on­cil­abil­ity of source doc­u­ments which had also been ex­posed to sev­eral au­di­tors was cited as a rea­son. The sec­ond was the de­ci­sion for Le­sotho to have early elec­tions, re­place IEC com­mis­sion­ers, re­view the elec­toral model and es­tab­lish an In­terim Po­lit­i­cal Author­ity to drive such re­forms.

The re­view of the model cul­mi­nated in the Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional (MMP) model (al­beit with re­sis­tance from the rul­ing party which wanted the par­al­lel sys­tem) of 80 con­stituency and 40 Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) seats.

In 2001, the rul­ing LCD split and 27 MPS formed the Le­sotho Peo­ple’s Congress (LPC) and crossed the floor. In the 2002 elec­tions, which were the first to be held un­der the MMP model with two bal­lots, the LCD had 79 seats, while the rest were shared by nine par­ties — a very sharp shift from a vir­tu­ally one party to an in­clu­sive par­lia­ment.

In 2006, the LCD split again to give birth to the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC) which went away with 17 MPS. This left the LCD with 61 seats which was a slim ma­jor­ity as the rest of the seats were shared among 10 po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The slim ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment ne­ces­si­tated snap elec­tions of 2007. Anx­ious to re­turn to gov­ern­ment de­spite the want­ing ma­jor­ity, the LCD de­vised a strat­egy that an­ni­hi­lated the seat-al­lo­ca­tion of the MMP, thereby seen by some as ful­fill­ing its long de­sire to turn the MMP into a par­al­lel sys­tem.

This was done by en­ter­ing into a pre-elec­tion coali­tion with the na­tional In­de­pen­dent Party (NIP), while the ABC did the same with the Le­sotho Work­ers’ Party (ABC leader Thomas Tha­bane was still an LCD mem­ber when this was planned) and the Popular Front for Democ­racy (PFD) did the same with its mem­bers who sud­denly be­came in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates with the sim­i­lar net ef­fect on the model.

The seats al­lo­ca­tion de­ba­cle marked 20072012 as a highly con­tentious pe­riod which was only con­tained through the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the clergy and civil so­ci­ety. This not only saved en­sured peace where SADC had failed, but also ush­ered Le­sotho into a new era, legal re­forms and a peace­ful un­medi­ated trans­fer of power.

When the LCD split again in Fe­bru­ary 2012, the Speaker of Par­lia­ment er­ro­neously de­clared the leader of the newly-formed Demo­cratic Congress (DC) as be­ing still the prime min­is­ter when she had es­tab­lished that he had 48 MPS be­hind him. This was the same er­ror made in 1998 when pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers sac­ri­ficed the in­de­pen­dence of par­lia­ment at the al­tar of sub­servience to party prej­u­dices. Fair par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure would have c

hal­lenged Le­sotho’s sys­tem to re­spond to the ques­tion on the po­si­tion of col­lec­tive PR MPS of cer­tain po­lit­i­cal par­ties, op­posed to an in­di­vid­ual in shift­ing loy­al­ties.

In 2012, when the first ap­pli­ca­tion of the re­fined MMP, where one bal­lot was used, Le­sotho had a hung par­lia­ment fol­lowed by a coali­tion gov­ern­ment of the ABC, LCD and BNP, whose ten­ure has how­ever, been cur­tailed fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the al­liance, lead­ing to early elec­tions next month.

On 28 Fe­bru­ary 2015, Le­sotho goes for elec­tions while it could have been bet­ter to have em­barked on re­forms first. In the se­ries of the ar­ti­cles on elec­tions, var­i­ous is­sues on elec­tions will be dis­cussed but the ques­tion is whether there are lessons Ba­sotho can draw from their coun­try’s his­tory of elec­tions?

Do you see mag­na­nim­ity in the man­ner in which win­ners ac­cept their victory and courage that losers con­cede de­feat? Do you see any sim­i­lar­ity on the role the po­lice and mil­i­tary played in the 1998 tur­moil that ne­ces­si­tated re­forms and early elec­tions of 2002? Are there any lessons to be drawn from early elec­tions?

For­mer Prime min­is­ter Pakalitha mo­sisili

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