Time to change Lesotho’s elections game
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