How a coalition govt should be formed
THE announcement that the Democratic Congress-Lesotho Congress for Democracy led alliance courted the Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party ( BCP), National Independent Party (NIP), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) was received with mixed feelings with some jubilating while others mourned. The reasons for these different reactions may equally be diverse but it is not the subject of this article.
This article looks at how things are done so as to contribute views to how the movers and shakers can use the people’s power for the benefit of the nation.
The central question, which can only be addressed through reflection on what Basotho have said earlier on the formation of coalition government is; how popular and democratic are coalition governments formed after elections?
The formation of a post-election coalition normally comes as a result of the failure of single parties to form government or become a strong voice in opposition on their own. In other words, it is a technical mandate that parties seek after the popular mandate they receive has not given them what they wanted. The question lies in the extent to which such a technical mandate, which is fully constitutional, can be seen as democratic in the real sense?
Though Lesotho has been faced by two coalition governments in a period of less than five years, a standard period for the parliament in Terms of the Constitution of the Kingdom, useful ideas have been suggested on how to deal the intricacies of the coalition government in Lesotho.
When Thabang Kholumo MP for Qalo, proposed a motion for the National Assembly to discuss the New Zealand report with the aim of identifying what Lesotho can do to better manage coalition governments, the 8th Parliament rejected it.
The high powered delegation of the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho that went to New Zealand have not, in any clear manner, shared with Basotho the contents of that report except through the civil society and media initiated processes.
This process resulted in a Community Voices Report collating responses of Basotho on several questions including the following; whether they prefer single party or coalition governments; whether coalition negotiations should be done in secret or be public knowledge; whether coalition negotiation should be limited to party leaders, national executives or party membership.
Though 56 percent said they preferred single party led governments over the coalition government, the reality is that it would be very difficult to have for a single party to lead government in Lesotho for some time to come.
Perhaps it is the first experience with a government of many parties that informs this kind of response. Well over 68 percent have said that the post-election coalition negotiations should not be limited to political leaders. Strong views were expressed that, at times, the electorate votes for a certain party while deliberately withdrawing support for another. But when their vote is used to bring back to power or remove a political party which they could have wanted out or in as the case may be, that becomes a betrayal. A total of 78 percent rejected the reality that negotiations become a preserve for leaders and executives. It may be interesting to look at the extent to which the process so far reflects the aspirations of the people.
The early announcement of the DC-LCD led coalition gave the impression that other processes will similarly be fast. However, it looks like the announcement of the cabinet will take longer than anticipated.
While it could practically be impossible to involve the rank and file in the negotiations in a direct manner, can the people know at least what parties are actually saying, demanding and promising one another when they negotiate? Who is going to pay for those promises? People or politicians negotiating behind closed doors?
Can the demands, particularly by smaller parties, be the reason why the cabinet announcement takes this long? The reality is that in the misapplication of the constitution of Lesotho, through a process that has been flawed since 1993, the prime minister has already been inaugurated while his command of the majority of Members of Parliament has never been established thus detaining the premier. This issue was addressed last week but surely it shall further be debated solely for the purposes of ensuring that it forms part of the much needed reforms. The primary ques- tion is whether it is fair or not that a party with relatively bigger support and closer to forming government than others be held at ransom by the smaller parties.
Can the people know how much the smaller parties that intent to go to government with DC-LCD are demanding? If, for example, by virtue of leading political parties MPs whose parties have not even met the quota but got seats through decimal fractions demand cabinet posts, seats in Senate and other extra parliamentary positions, would it be fair not only to the bigger parties but to the voters? Assuming that the hurdles are finally resolved and the coalition government cabinet is announced, will it be known to the public on what basis parties agreed? When reforms are done, one of them should be transparent and open negotiating process where political minnows may still be checked by the voters otherwise they will call the shots way beyond what they worth. Perhaps, it could be asked, why would relatively big parties choose a single big party led coalition government on the one hand with a single big party led coalition of opposition parties on the other over the grand coalition option?
In any event, the first option is not only expensive in terms of demands, difficulty to manage and inherent potential to cause internal conflicts with the leading parties but also in terms of what it gives, it remains a slim majority. This situation is equally the same even if big parties can swap positions, one in opposition becoming government and one in government being opposition.
People want transparent coalition negotiations. Do not you think the best way to deal with this is to do what people demand?