Time to change Le­sotho’s elec­tions game

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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.

The Le­sotho Times wel­comes read­ers’ feed­back on top­i­cal is­sues. The e-mail ad­dress is: edi­tor@les­times.co.ls Let­ters may be ad­dressed to: The Edi­tor, Le­sotho Times, A2200 Lower Thet­sane, Maseru 100.

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