Time to change Lesotho’s elections game
2012 election — it was the biggest party but did not get an outright majority. History repeated itself last week. The only change: it was the DC’S turn to co-opt minor parties.
The 2012 result and subsequent coalition saw the bloating of the cabinet to help reward the minor parties for their alliance partnership with the ABC.
“This was no guarantee, because the small opposition parties were continuously weighing up options for the best possible alliance deal.
They tried to realign in April 2014 with the DC. But Prime Minister Thabane would have none of his own medicine (he came to power through exactly this type of alliance).
Thabane dabbled in authoritarianism by suspending parliament — effectively for 10 months.
He pleaded “instability” and King Letsie III endorsed him. Equally, musical chairs played out around the return of former prime minister Mosisili.
Inappropriate as nemesis Thabane’s suspension of parliament was, it has been argued that Mosisili is where the problems actually started.
He was prime minister from 1998 to 2012. He had many chances to bring effective governance and help heal Lesotho from the citizens’ state of poverty. The military and police — with the military recently supporting the LCD and the police the ABC — exacerbate Lesotho’s fragile party politics.
Politics is so brittle that the Lesotho Defence Force’s assault on some Maseru police stations in August 2014 could be perceived as an attempted coup to overthrow Thabane. South Africa noted that the activities of the LDF bore “the hallmarks” of a coup d’état. The LCD denied such intent.
There have been suspicions that the Zuma administration is partial to Thabane. After all, the DC has condemned the Lesotho diplomatic passport that Thabane issued to Atul Gupta, businessman and friend of President Jacob Zuma.
(By the way, watch out for the new Presidency communication strategy that will sharpen attempts to put a distance between the Guptas and Zumas.) In general, South African involvement is nothing new to the Basotho. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Swaziland have long been the SA Development Community (SADC) guarantors of Kingdom politics.
Whenever conflict goes out of control (or is argued to have gone into orbit, as in 2014), big patron South Africa steps in.
SADC was there with Operation Boleas in 1998, for example, to quell further conflict in the wake of the winner-takes-all of the 1997 election. (Despite a strong opposition showing, the LCD had won all but one seat; after the BCP had taken all seats in 1993, the first election since the military had peacefully withdrawn.)
This year, SADC (under Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa) mediated the election.
It appears that South Africa and SADC help disentangle conflicts — but it also helps Lesotho escape responsibility for its own political escapades.
Perhaps it is appropriate for South Africa to share political responsibility. The two countries are inextricably linked. Most of all, South Africa’s economic heartland Gauteng’s water supply depends on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
Lesotho has the power to forestall water demand in South Africa outstripping supply in about a de- cade from now.
In addition, Lesotho also remains a (declining) labour reservoir for South Africa.
Lesotho has all the ingredients for political high drama: security forces schooled in party political alignment, a lame duck king, party leaders who jump ship when not indulged, a culture of split parties. And governance projects play second fiddle.
So far, the fact that Lesotho has an unemployment rate matched by South Africa’s, life expectancy of 49 years, and ranks 162nd of 187 states on the 2014 Human Development Index have not been sufficient to let politicians change the rules of their own party games. Does the class of 2015 have what it takes to change the game?
Booysen is professor at the Wits School of Governance.
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