Lesotho polls: A historical perspective
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