Basotho want electoral system changed

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Herbert Moyo

MOST Basotho want a change in the electoral system and more powers to be given to the King as they feel that the current governance institutions fall short of their expected effectiveness in addressing the economic, social, and political needs of the nation.

This and the fact that the majority of Basotho welcome the involvement of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the processes to reform Lesotho’s political system and security sector are part of the latest findings by a leading research institute, Afrobarometer.

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in Africa.

The internationally acclaimed research institute also found that as the country embarks on the constitutional, security sector, governance, media and judicial reforms that were recommended by SADC in 2016, most Basotho want greater powers for the king and less involvement in politics by the security forces.

Most respondents also indicated that Lesotho should dump the proportional representation system and switch to a majoritarian electoral system to ensure a single-party government rather than the current system of coalition governments which has been blamed for fueling instability.

Afrobarometer noted that when Lesotho experienced the third wave of democratisation and subsequently introduced the mixed member proportional (MMP) parliamentary system in 2001, there was a widespread belief that this would be the “remedy for political violence and instability”.

“In practice, however, the past decade has been marked by unstable coalition governments, active engagement by security forces in political processes and SADC interventions in 1998, 2012, 2014 and (at present) to re-establish peace and order.

“Each major episode draws public outcries of frustration and calls for action on the part of the monarchy, even though the country has a constitutional monarchy with very limited powers.

“Survey findings…show that a majority of Basotho welcome SADC involvement in the reform process and want greater powers for the King. The majority of Basotho also want less political involvement by security forces and a return to a majoritarian electoral system that will help the country avoid ineffective coalition governments,”  Afrobarometer states in its latest report.

Such is the overwhelming sentiment against the proportional representation system that two-thirds (66 percent) of Basotho think it would be better for Lesotho to have a single party in power and the country should therefore switch back to a majoritarian electoral system.

“Three-fourths of respondents say coalition governments are more unstable and have more difficulty getting things done than one-party governments.

“Support for switching back to a majoritarian system is strongest among rural residents (70 percent) than urban (61 percent) and peri-urban residents (57 percent).”

More women (70 percent) favour the return to the majoritarian system than men (63 percent).

The proportional representation system has given a lifeline to political parties such as the opposition Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) to have significant parliamentary representation of 11 seats despite winning only one constituency seat.

Even the BNP and RCL who did not win a single seat were accommodated in the ruling coalition on the basis of the seats they obtained through the proportional representation system. Despite losing in all constituencies, the BNP got five proportional representation seats while the RCL gained one.

Despite winning 48 seats in last year’s national elections, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention was compelled to enter into a coalition agreement with the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) and the Basotho National Party (BNP).

The ABC combined its 48 seats with the AD’s nine, BNP’s five and the RCL’s one, enabling them to pass the 61-seat threshold required to form government in the 120-seat National Assembly.

Afrobarometer also found that the bouts of political instability may be taking a toll on citizens’ support for elections with the proportion of Basotho who “agree” or “agree very strongly” that “regular, open, and honest elections” are the best way to choose their leaders dropping by 25 percent from 73 percent in 2014 to 48 percent in 2017.

Polled against Zambia, Botswana, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Afrobarometer ranked Lesotho last in terms of the support for democracy and choosing leaders through elections.

Afrobarometer concluded that the reforms recommended by SADC have therefore become an urgent necessity as most Basotho have lost faith in the effectiveness of current systems to address various challenges.

“The reform process becomes a necessity when institutions fall short of their expected effectiveness in addressing economic, social, and political needs of the nation.

“Basotho are clearly looking for change, whether in a more powerful King, less politicised security forces, or an electoral system that produces more effective government. A precipitous drop in support for elections as the best way to choose leaders may serve as a red flag that the democratic experiment requires fine-tuning,” Afrobarometer concluded.

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