Basotho value(d) their chieftainship
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.