Defend democracy or politicians?
Democracy is by definition a government of the people for the people by the people with the people. Political parties and their leadership are generally accepted as agents of democracy and their ability to function freely without suppression is one of the key measures of democracy in any given sovereign democracy. What should happen when democracy, on the one hand and the conduct of political parties and leaders on the other, clash? Should citizens defend democracy or politicians in such a case?
Since its return to constitutional dispensation in 1993, Lesotho experienced political conflict that largely rested on weak institutions of governance to deal with contending political views. Political actors on the one hand manipulated institutions to entrench their power and control over state apparatus even by means beyond democratic conduct though using the offices they otherwise legitimately occupied.
On the other hand, the same institutions were targeted, tested and manipulated to destabilise sitting regimes to advance the interests of politicians who felt excluded. None had been ready to disclose but coated real intentions with glossy party slogans to amass support. The 1998 political era represents part of great manifestation of the problem alluded to.
Post 1998, the intensity of interparty conflict subsided but intraparty squabbles were on the rise. This comparison does not, in any way, intend to suggest that interparty conflict registered any identifiably declining dynamics to be read into the entire political system but rather simply marks the point that after the big Setlamo-lcd storm of 1998, intraparty dynamics became more conspicuous than ever before across the parties.
The Basotho National Party and the main opposition as it then was experienced a long battle over leadership, a war that saw some including the current leader at one point sidelined, formation of the Basotho Democratic National Party, fallout between the Deputy Leader and the Leader, removal of the leader by vote-of-no-confidence and many other internal challenges. The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was then experiencing sharp internal contradictions which it could never mend hence the formation of the Lesotho People’s Congress.
It never stopped for the LCD because in less than five years, the ruling faction of the fragmented Congress had a shock of its life when an active Minister, yet a minnow in party ranks, left to form the All Basotho Convention (ABC). Perhaps what shocked the LCD was not the departure of Tom Thabane but the national response. The last to split from LCD were the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) respectively. The Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) had internal questions to respond to which even saw the leader who once declared his desire to leave changing his mind. It rained cats and dogs for the Basutoland Congress Party that saw Mahatammoho a Boithatelo Bo Botle, formation of the Basotho African Congress which also could not hold but experience the formation of the Basotho African National Congress.
In all these splinter actions, it has been democracy versus named leaders. How have citizens who are members of these political parties reacted? Have they defended democracy or politicians? Perhaps not only institutional transformation is necessary to enhance democracy in Lesotho but democratisation of institutions as well, including political parties.
People take leaders to be always correct and always democratic whereas in most occasions, those who have power in political parties wield it to advance their self-interests contrary to those of the people they lead or represent hence ironical to democracy but they have always enjoyed popular sup- port. And the question is why?
Today, opposition parties have resolved to boycott parliament as another way of pressurising government to yield to its demands. Many people in opposition parties who are able to appear in the media support this position. It is however not yet clear whether those who do not appear in the media concur or just opt to save themselves from potential victimisation of speaking the truth to politicians who control political parties.
It is reported that one Hon ‘Makhotso Matšumunyane of the BNP felt duty bound to go to parliament and ask an urgent question for oral response, a question on pertinent issues in the constituency that she is aspiring to represent in parliament. This earned her the wrath of her colleagues and party leadership but certainly favour with the people. Given the position taken by opposition parties ‘Makhotso acted dishonestly to the party but what about to the people she will at one point ask to vote for her? Where is democracy here, in the articulation of the party in terms of party line or in the practical political imperative of an MP who is desperate for delivery and therefore positive appraisal?
If ‘Mamatšumunyane is on the side of democracy, what should the people do if other politicians, be they her leaders or colleagues, use their power to reprimand her for being on the side of democracy, defend democracy or politicians? Are all MPS under the tutelage of the ABC convinced that boycotting parliament is the strategy or are they coerced by the party line?
If MPS are given the mandate to represent people in parliament and politicians collectively within political parties decide to boycott parliament but individual MPS feel not comfortable and therefore challenge the stance, will they be on the side of democracy or not? When politicians, either as colleagues or leaders or both want
to reprimand them, what should citizens and perhaps party members do, defend democracy or politicians? Surely politicians capitalise on the weaknesses of others all at the expense of democracy itself and the people.
Recently the LCD announced its desire to launch a political challenge to opposition MPS who boycott parliament. The LCD says it will be doing this to defend the people and protect public funds from being squandered by MPS who do not work. Certainly this is good talk but for this and the sister column in the sister newspaper and perhaps the like-minded, political talk is not an end into itself but the intentions should be questioned.
If the LCD successfully lobbies for a cut of the MPS’ emoluments, that may, at the face of it, appear logical but would that really represent genuine defence for democracy or yet another attempt to exploit misplaced public trust on politicians for the protection of democracy? When gov- ernment decided to pay for loans for people who qualify and indeed are taking other loans, where was this LCD vigilance and the public funds protector role? Perhaps the LCD expects to be supported because its work is supposed to be in defence of democracy.
Recently, the National Assembly passed the National Human Rights Commission Bill hastily where the portfolio committee responsible deliberately and unapologetically denied civil society the right to address it. So if the LCD is so much worried and genuine that citizens are not represented, how has it used its presence in parliament to protect citizens’ right to participation enshrined in Section 20(1) of the Lesotho constitution elaborated in Section 76 of the National Standing Orders? Is the LCD really on the side of democracy here or on self-enhancing campaign for politicians under the guise of democracy? What should citizens then do: defend democracy or politicians?