How to ap­proach political, con­sti­tu­tional re­forms

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Moeketsi ma­joro

In late 2014, I penned in South Africa’s Busi­ness Day of 2 De­cem­ber 2014, a mo­ti­va­tion for rad­i­cal political and con­sti­tu­tional re­forms (see the In­ter­net link below). I ar­gued that Le­sotho needs deep and rad­i­cal re­forms to avoid emerg­ing law­less­ness and vi­o­lent con­flict and to make progress to re­verse ex­treme forms of poverty, hunger, dis­ease, ex­ces­sive in­fant deaths and high un­em­ploy­ment. Since then, the sit­u­a­tion has taken a turn for the worse, mak­ing re­form now more ur­gent. Killings and re­venge killings are oc­cur­ring weekly, political lead­ers and mem­bers of the Le­sotho De­fence Force are on the run fear­ing for their lives, judges ap­pear in­tim­i­dated some­times is­su­ing strange judge­ments in LDFre­lated cases, while oth­ers are be­ing im­peached, and there is a clamp down on in­de­pen­dent ra­dio sta­tions and so­cial me­dia.

Why the need for re­form? Le­sotho does not have ad­e­quate political and con­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port a sta­ble democ­racy needed to ad­vance the wel­fare of its peo­ple and at­tain its long term goals. The ex­ist­ing political ar­chi­tec­ture lacks the req­ui­site le­gal in­stru­ments, prac­tices and con­ven­tions re­quired to de­liver peace­ful political tran­si­tions ex­pected in any thriv­ing democ­racy. Th­ese crit­i­cal deficits pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for political elites to cap­ture the state for per­sonal gain us­ing pro­pa­ganda tools and mil­i­tarised re­pres­sion. But such ac­tions are not ac­cept­able in a democ­racy and are of­ten achieved through bar­baric acts of cor­rup­tion, mur­der, trea­son, and re­pres­sion.

Re­gret­tably, the re­cent gains in good demo­cratic gov­er­nance are now be­ing re­versed, set­ting Le­sotho back to the re­pres­sive rule of the African dic­ta­tor­ships of the 1970s. This de­lib­er­ately or­ches­trated ret­ro­gres­sion must be halted at the al­tar of re­form.

Le­sotho’s ail­ing demo­cratic sys­tem ex­hibits many un­de­sir­able symp­toms which ar­gue per­sua­sively for re­form, in­clud­ing the fol­low­ing: l Fre­quent align­ments be­tween se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and political par­ties have un­der­mined democ­racy for most of the last 50 years of Le­sotho’s in­de­pen­dence and will con­tinue to do so un­less the need by politi­cians and army of­fi­cers to cap­ture the state for per­sonal gain is ac­tively dis­cour­aged and per­ma­nently elim­i­nated. l In Le­sotho’s political sys­tem, pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion and Se­nate seats are in­creas­ingly be­ing used by political par­ties to re­ward mem­bers that have lost seats or have played sig­nif­i­cant roles to un­der­mine sit­ting gov­ern­ments. This political ex­pe­di­ency un­der­mines democ­racy and needs to be elim­i­nated by re­view­ing how political ap­pointees are sent to the up­per house. l Le­sotho’s Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional (MMP) elec­toral model while com­pen­sat­ing for pop­u­lar vote per­for­mance by each po­lit­i­cally party, has in­tro­duced new dis­tor­tions that un­der­mine democ­racy by in­ad­ver­tently giv­ing par­ties that have lit­tle voter sup­port to hold at ran­som those par­ties that have large fol­low­ing.

This un­for­tu­nate out­come is at vari­ance with ex­pected demo­cratic norms and needs to be pre­vented through re­form. Be­cause political par­ties with large sup­port are some­times un­able to form govern­ment alone, the smaller par­ties they need to form a rul­ing coali­tion are au­to­mat­i­cally granted the power of the king­maker to dic­tate which large par­ties can form govern­ment, and which will re­main in op­po­si­tion.

Fur­ther, once in power, the smaller par­ties can con­tin­u­ously hold large par­ties at ran­som by wield­ing the threat to de­fect to the other large party that re­mains in op­po­si­tion. In a democ­racy, the political power of pop­u­lar par­ties should not be con­tested by political min­nows sim­ply be­cause of weak­nesses in the ar­chi­tec­ture of the elec­toral model. Re­form is thus war­ranted. l An­other dis­tor­tion em­a­nat­ing from the cur­rent prac­tice of Le­sotho’s MMP is the un­equal weights at­tached to par­ties in par­lia­ment. Based on to­tal votes cast in the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion, the av­er­age votes per MP is 4,030. How­ever, three of the par­ties in par­lia­ment (LPC, BCP and MFP) fall short of this thresh­old which should be seen as the min­i­mum a party must com­mand be­fore be­ing rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment. To il­lus­trate, an LPC MP has sup­port of only 1,951 votes na­tion­ally, but has the same voice in the na­tional As­sem­bly as a DC MP who has av­er­age sup­port of 4,650 votes!

Clearly this prac­tice dis­counts pop­u­lar sup­port in favour of small par­ties and pe­nalises the sup­port large par­ties have! The jus­ti­fi­able no­tion of com­pen­sa­tion inherent in the MMP now works out to over­com­pen­sate small par­ties in in­di­rect bar­gain­ing and political power! Thus Le­sotho’s elec­toral model needs rad­i­cal over­haul. l Weak political and gov­er­nance in­sti­tu­tions and the ab­sence of checks and bal­ances in ex­er­cise of political power have pro­moted un­demo­cratic prac­tices at var­i­ous times dur­ing the tur­bu­lent 50 years of Le­sotho’s in­de­pen­dence in­clud­ing the fol­low­ing:

a) De­lib­er­ate politi­ci­sa­tion of the Le­sotho De­fence Force, po­lice ser­vices and the broader pub­lic ser­vice and the weak­en­ing of the ju­di­ciary and par­lia­ment par­tic­u­larly the na­tional as­sem­bly with the sin­gle aim to pre­serve chan­nels of political pa­tron­age and de­feat the ends of jus­tice;

b) Polarization of so­ci­ety along political lines with de­lib­er­ate con­flict over­tones;

c) The cap­ture of the state by an elit­ist el­e­ment of so­ci­ety de­ter­mined to gov­ern in per­pe­tu­ity for per­sonal gain through ex­treme forms of pa­tron­age and mil­i­tarised re­pres­sion.

Th­ese weak­nesses cou­pled with pow­er­ful vested in­ter­ests of an elit­ist political class that doles out pa­tron­age (tax­ing ev­ery­one, but us­ing the tax col­lec­tions to hire and pro­cure from only its sup­port­ers) can only cul­ti­vate a sense of in­jus­tice and lead to civil con­flict.

Re­vers­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion and seek­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion will pave the way to im­ple­ment an agenda of con­sti­tu­tional, se­cu­rity and par­lia­men­tary re­forms within a frame­work of political sta­bil­ity, trust and na­tional unity, good gov­er­nance and ac­cel­er­ated eco­nomic and so­cial growth trans­for­ma­tion and re­spect for the rule of law and hu­man rights.

Thus, Le­sotho must un­dergo rad­i­cal and in­clu­sive con­sti­tu­tional, political, pub­lic ser­vice and se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms, which should be iden­ti­fied, de­cided and for­mu­lated jointly by all Le­sotho stake­hold­ers in­de­pen­dently of govern­ment. An in­clu­sive process will not only pro­mote wider ac­cep­tance of the rad­i­cal re­forms but also their own­er­ship by the Ba­sotho na­tion as a whole.

The Govern­ment of Le­sotho has de­clared that it is the most re­formist of all times. While there is am­ple ev­i­dence to the con­trary, the ex­pressed will­ing­ness to re­form is wel­come and en­cour­aged. In ad­di­tion, SADC and the Com­mon­wealth have not only rec­om­mended that Le­sotho un­der­takes re­forms; they have also funded and sup­ported work that iden­ti­fies such re­forms. Go­ing for­ward:

a) The Govern­ment of Le­sotho should es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent and in­clu­sive re­form process sim­i­lar to the In­de­pen­dent Political Au­thor­ity that was de­ployed fol­low­ing the 1998 political con­flict, con­sist­ing of all political par­ties in Par­lia­ment and civil so­ci­ety. This process should be as­sisted by SADC and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in­clud­ing, no­tably the Com­mon­wealth. Such a body should be es­tab­lished as soon as pos­si­ble and within the time­lines stip­u­lated by SADC;

b) SADC should fa­cil­i­tate and over­see the re­form process and en­sure that its out­comes are en­acted and im­ple­mented. In this re­spect, SADC should de­ploy soon­est its Over­sight Com­mit­tee and staff it ap­pro­pri­ately to also play the over­sight role en­vis­aged here. De­ploy­ing a per­ma­nent en­voy for the du­ra­tion of the di­a­logue on re­forms would be one way of dis­charg­ing its role of over­sight;

c) The work of the in­de­pen­dent re­form body en­vi­sioned here should build on the re­form pro­pos­als by the Com­mon­wealth (the multi-party re­form pro­pos­als fa­cil­i­tated by Pro­fes­sor Prasad of New Zealand) and SADC (Pro­posal on Con­sti­tu­tional and In­sti­tu­tional Re­forms in the King­dom of Le­sotho).

Fol­low­ing political con­flict in 2007, the Re­pub­lic of Kenya un­der­took rad­i­cal re­forms that have changed the political and con­sti­tu­tional set up for democ­racy and in­tro­duced checks and bal­ances as a nec­es­sary check against ex­ces­sive ex­ec­u­tive power.

Like­wise, Le­sotho political lead­ers should find in them­selves the nec­es­sary political will to trans­form Le­sotho away from the un­sus­tain­able pol­i­tics of per­sonal gain.

In this re­spect, the dan­ger­ous re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cur­rent Govern­ment and the armed forces should be elim­i­nated and the wan­ton killings in re­cent months halted.

In the same man­ner, the purge of the civil ser­vice of op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers and weak­en­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion of other agen­cies of the state in­clud­ing the ju­di­ciary should be halted and re­versed. When Le­sotho is de­stroyed by one sec­tion of the political spec­trum, it is none­the­less ul­ti­mately de­stroyed for all.

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