Basotho value(d) their chief­tain­ship

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Makha­bane Maluke

THE above as­sess­ment may be de­duced from the 17-22 Septem­ber, 1995 Na­tional Di­a­logue on Democ­racy, Sta­bil­ity and Devel­op­ment. It is now two decades since then. It could be another les­son af­ter the 1970-1993 un­demo­cratic rule which never damp­ened the wish of Basotho to vote as they had wished in 1970.

Would the 1995 at­ti­tude also stand? That di­a­logue was na­tional in that all ef­fort to as­sem­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all in­sti­tu­tions Le­sotho had was made.

Part of what those rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the na­tion rec­om­mended was im­ple­mented while oth­ers, like the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of Se­nate, re­mained pend­ing.

Rec­om­men­da­tions carry dif­fer­ent weights: to the ex­tent that some may be viewed as bind­ing, even when they ac­tu­ally don’t. To a demo­crat, any rec­om­men­da­tion whose out­look is to per­fect demo­cratic prac­tice will al­ways de­serve more at­ten­tion and ought to bind, as some of us think lately.

The 1995 rec­om­men­da­tion to en­large and de­moc­ra­tize the Le­sotho Se­nate was as im­por­tant as that which led to the cre­ation of the IEC which was dealt with swiftly. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of cit­i­zens would won­der why this par­tic­u­lar rec­om­men­da­tion was over­looked.

Could that not amount to a de­fi­ance of the na­tion which had rec­om­mended? It could have as well been a de­lib­er­ate omis­sion or due to some other shield which ex­isted. Else, there has to be a con­vinc­ing ex­pla­na­tion for that.

At times na­tions, com­mu­ni­ties and or­ga­ni­za­tions de­velop re­sis­tance to change, where it ap­pears threat­en­ing some­how, or due to mis­un­der­stand­ing. One ma­jor im­pact of this rec­om­men­da­tion would def­i­nitely be to in­ter­fere with power re­la­tions in the Se­nate.

It had all the in­gre­di­ents to tilt the House ma­jor­ity. It could have been this that ne­ces­si­tated the op­tion to let the sleep­ing dogs lie.

That di­a­logue had many rec­om­men­da­tions on Tra­di­tional Lead­er­ship. Th­ese in­cluded the fol­low­ing: …”Chief­tain­ship should be re­garded as an in­te­gral arm of gov­ern­ment…. Tra­di­tional Lead­ers should be dis­cour­aged from engaging in po­lit­i­cal party ac­tiv­ity as their sta­tus cut(s) across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide…”

Rec­om­men­da­tions fur­ther sug­gested the need for rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the grass roots in Se­nate and some kind of elec­tion to that House. Many other rec­om­men­da­tions were aimed at the gen­eral im­prove­ment of the in­sti­tu­tion to pre­pare it for the pre­ferred role.

What could have been a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a rec­om­men­da­tion for the Le­sotho Se­nate of the orig­i­nal 33 seats to be en­larged? Mod­ern day Sec­ond Cham­bers of demo­cratic par­lia­ments have rep­re­sen­ta­tives from re­gions, coun­ties, pre­fec­tures and Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. South Africa and Namibia are ex­am­ples closer to Le­sotho.

The King­dom of Le­sotho has ten ad­min­is­tra­tive dis­tricts, ten dis­trict coun­cils, Maseru Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil ur­ban and com­mu­nity coun­cils. The 22 prin­ci­pal­i­ties of the ex-of­fi­cio Sen­a­tors also have Area Chiefs who are also lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures.

The rec­om­men­da­tion was of the view that all th­ese could some­how be or­ga­nized to fi­nally give rise to own rep­re­sen­ta­tives to make Se­nate more rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Ei­ther di­rect or in­di­rect elec­tions could be de­vised. That elec­tion would not nec­es­sar­ily have to be con­cur­rent with par­lia­men­tary of lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions; though the lat­ter would best be ex­pected to come first.

There are ex­am­ple else­where on how re­cruit­ment of mem­ber­ship to the Sec­ond Cham­ber gets pro­cessed. The good as­pect of stag­gered elec­tion is that they en­sure con­ti­nu­ity af­ter ev­ery dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment.

In a healthy democ­racy, change is part of the game. Even the mother of West­min­ster model par­lia­ments is un­der con­stant pres­sure to adapt to new devel­op­ments.

The Speaker of the House of Com­mons (Hocs) and the Lord Speaker on the House of Lords (Hols) in the United King­dom is­sued a joint men­tion for the Com­mon­wealth par­lia­ments about “the re­silience of the West­min­ster model as rooted in its re­spon­sive­ness to the chang­ing de­mand of the elec­torate and the in­creas­ing com­plex­ity of gov­ern­ment in the mod­ern world”.

They even cited the 2007 ex­pe­ri­ence where their Hocs pre­ferred a wholly or sub­stan­tially elected House of Lords. This shows there was a need to change from the un­elected Hols.

Fol­low­ing lat­est devel­op­ments in the UK par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, the Hols is now presided over by Lord Speaker and no longer Lord Chan­cel­lor which now re­mains a gov­ern­ment port­fo­lio des­ig­na­tion. Re­la­tions be­tween par­lia­ment and gov­ern­ment in a democ­racy are very im­por­tant.

Var­i­ous gov­ern­ments of the demo­cratic Le- sotho have at­tempted to adapt to new ways. The 1993 con­sti­tu­tion cor­rectly an­tic­i­pated coali­tion gov­ern­ments.

The first such came about be­cause of the first ex­pe­ri­ence of a hung par­lia­ment in 2012, but did not sur­vive a par­lia­men­tary term be­cause it dis­re­garded com­plex­i­ties which go with coali­tion agree­ments and gov­ern­ment.

The 1995 Di­a­logue rec­om­men­da­tion to en­large and de­moc­ra­tize the Se­nate ought not to im­ply a to­tal over­haul of the cur­rent un­demo­cratic set up.

In the spirit of all di­a­logue rec­om­men­da­tions which sup­ported tra­di­tional lead­er­ship read to­gether, some win-win ap­proach could be de­vised. Mem­ber­ship of Prin­ci­pal Chiefs could be re­tained.

Even the nom­i­na­tion to the Se­nate could be re­tained with im­prove­ments to ei­ther in­crease the num­ber from 11 to open up for ad­di­tional and es­sen­tial nom­i­nees or es­tab­lish ad­di­tional seats for the di­rect or in­di­rect elec­tion which the rec­om­men­da­tion would re­sult with.

A re­think about the House of Se­nate re­mains an is­sue. The value and rel­e­vance of a demo­cratic Sec­ond Cham­ber con­tin­ues to be a chal­lenge.

In the event the rec­om­mended change is not work­able, the Botswana route of an elected Na­tional as­sem­bly and House of Chiefs could be prefer­able than a bi­cam­eral par­lia­ment with one House re­main­ing com­pletely un­demo­cratic.

Some democ­ra­cies even abol­ished their Se­nate but were quick to re­vive them with im­prove­ments. Zim­babwe is one ex­am­ple in the SADC re­gion.

Democrati­sa­tion would give the Se­nate a good facelift which would ease fur­ther

im­prove­ments to en­hance the rel­e­vance and value of the House as a Sec­ond Cham­ber. It could be­come a truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive House: with elec­tors have some say on who be­came Sen­a­tors. That would be bet­ter than a mock­ery of be­ing la­beled the Up­per House as it is very much un­like real Up­per Housed.

It could lead to joined sit­tings of the two Houses to re­place some ref­er­en­dum to re­solve dis­agree­ments. Even the fa­mil­iar joint meet­ing are only a mat­ter of prac­tice which have no reg­u­la­tion.

It is doubt­ful there will ever be any bet­ter lo­cally tai­lored pointer of the way for­ward than the 1995 di­a­logue. De­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of Se­nate would el­e­vate it to a sta­tus of 21st cen­tury Sec­ond Cham­ber which would qual­ify it for op­tion to only ad­journ when the Na­tional As­sem­bly de­served dis­so­lu­tion. As of now, the Se­nate will al­ways be en­joined if the NA has to be dis­solved. The only un­de­ni­able ad­van­tage of the sta­tus quo is to ren­der Se­nate as a valu­able source of ad­di­tional tal­ent for any new par­lia­ment and gov­ern­ment.

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