Time to change Le­sotho’s elec­tions game

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Su­san Booy­sen

From ABC to DC, the peo­ple had spo­ken, al­beit at a low 47 per­cent turnout, and is­sued a frac­tured party po­lit­i­cal man­date, writes Su­san Booy­sen.

This week’s pol­i­tics in Le­sotho showed that elec­tions are not enough. Elec­tions are not the only game in town. Th­ese par­lia­men­tary elec­tions ap­peared sim­ply as one of the many props in the games politi­cians play. or are they?

The “win­ners” of the week were the Demo­cratic Congress (DC) and its coali­tion part­ners. They spun the smooth words of suc­cess­ful demo­cratic process: “the will of the peo­ple tri­umphed” and “sovereignty (from South Africa) is re­stored”.

Yet con­flicted images swirl across the King­dom in the Sky: chronic party po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity per­sist­ing since in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain nearly halfa-cen­tury ago; un­scrupu­lous switches in party al­liances; an ever-hun­gry and now party po­lit­i­cally-aligned mil­i­tary and po­lice; a hol­low monar­chy; par­lia­men­tary coups; and an elec­torate that is last in the queue.

Politi­cians’ re­as­sur­ances of the birth of ma­ture mul­ti­par­ty­ism and durable al­liances weighed in against criss­cross­ing fault-lines. Lead­ers wran­gling for per­sonal and party ben­e­fit have been at the heart of the last decade’s in­sta­bil­ity.

The se­cu­rity forces have been ev­er­ready to fire salvoes in sup­port of their pa­tron party. In barely two decades, Le­sotho has moved from mil­i­tary rule to one-party dom­i­nance, to hy­per-com­pet­i­tive party pol­i­tics and in­sta­bil­ity in gov­ern­ment.

The multi-mem­ber pro­por­tional (MMP) elec­toral sys­tem and floor-cross­ing in the leg­is­la­ture give out­lets to a di­vided elec­torate and po­lit­i­cal elite that has ex­celled at the pol­i­tics of dou­ble-cross, re­spec­tively.

The ob­servers’ tri­umphal­ism ap­peared out of step with vin­tage Le­sotho pol­i­tics. The ob­server state­ments lauded the peace­ful peo­ple of Le­sotho em­brac­ing their elec­tions. (Was this ever in ques­tion in re­cent years?)

The peo­ple had spo­ken, al­beit at a low 47 per­cent turnout, and is­sued a frac­tured party po­lit­i­cal man­date.

Then pol­i­tics as usual re­turned – politi­cians man­u­fac­tur­ing a multi-party par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity.

For many vot­ers it was the choice be­tween one or an­other of the “Congress par­ties”. They hoped that a 2015 en­dorse­ment might pull politi­cians into se­ri­ous gov­ern­ment and away from an­other hair­rais­ing ride on Le­sotho’s coali­tion roller.

re­ported in­ter­views gave glimpses into cit­i­zens ex­as­per­ated with elite bickering and weary of se­cu­rity force im­po­si­tion. Yet there was no guar­an­tee that a vote would change th­ese dy­nam­ics.

Noth­ing but the politi­cians’ words safe­guards against an­other frag­ile ma­jori­tar­ian coali­tion.

The DC gov­ern­ing coali­tion with the LCD and five mi­nor op­po­si­tion par­ties fol­lowed on the heels of the col­lapsed 2012 gov­ern­ing al­liance of the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC) and a sim­i­lar op­po­si­tion party line-up. Déjà vu, or have lessons been learnt?

In 2012, the line-up was pretty sim­i­lar to to­day’s. The main change is that the lead party now is the DC, not the ABC. The main op­po­si­tion party in the gov­ern­ing coali­tion in both in­stances: the LCD.

It is a min­i­mally dif­fer­ent coali­tion that would have been in power had the ABC’S Tom Tha­bane (he who was re­port­edly evac­u­ated to South Africa, shout­ing “coup!”, and was then es­corted back to his coun­try un­der South African se­cu­rity force guard) not suspended par­lia­ment in mid-2014 to es­cape a mo­tion of no­con­fi­dence. Mo­thetjoa Mets­ing, LCD leader, was deputy prime min­is­ter both then and now.

No strangers to mu­tual fall­out, the lead­ers in this week’s Dc-led coali­tion have sown the seeds of scep­ti­cism. In the LCD from 2010 to 2012 mets­ing and his as­so­ciates pres­sured for (now again prime min­is­ter) Pakalitha mo­sisili to make way for new lead­er­ship.

mo­sisili coun­tered by split­ting from the LCD just be­fore elec­tion 2012 to form the DC. Some reckon mo­sisili has been the source of all the in­sta­bil­ity, ar­guably stir­ring up dis­sent, un­able to step into the role of op­po­si­tion leader.

The in­her­ent in­sta­bil­ity in Le­sotho’s gov­ern­ing coali­tions means it takes only a few mi­nor par­ties to tilt the scales at the on­set of griev­ances. In the past such whinges in­cluded party lead­ers who felt poorly con­sulted or sin­gled out for cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

They call th­ese “ir­rec­on­cil­able lead­er­ship dis­putes”. The stakes are high when the lead­ers po­si­tion for of­fice and use public re­sources to gain power, pro­file and re­sources for them­selves and/or their par­ties.

In the Tha­bane ad­min­is­tra­tion, mi­nor par­ties had to be pam­pered with gov­ern­ment de­part­ments of their own.

Un­der mo­sisili, mets­ing might be sub­dued if his cor­rup­tion charges from the time of the Tha­bane regime go away.

It is pos­si­ble Le­sotho politi­cians have learnt from their study tours to other mmp coun­tries, such as New Zealand.

There the sys­tem also re­sulted in a propen­sity for mul­ti­ple par­ties and coali­tion pol­i­tics, but with more sta­bil­ity. The par­ties also fo­cus on gov­er­nance.

The bulk of Le­sotho’s par­ties are in­ter­con­nected, for ex­am­ple in the Congress tra­di­tion.

Few ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences sep­a­rate them. Sev­eral come from splits off the once-pow­er­ful Ba­sotho Congress Party (BCP). The LCD split from the BCP in 1997 and re­placed it in power. In 2006 Tha­bane broke from the BCP to form the ABC. Next, in 2012 the DC (led by mo­sisili) split off the re­main­der of mets­ing’s LCD.

The lat­ter split came three months be­fore the elec­tion, ex­e­cuted through floor-cross­ing. The ABC “won” the May

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