Another cloud cuckoo land proposal…
Anyone with a fifth of a brain would have to agree with me that our debauched electoral system is partly to blame for our perennial economic and political woes.
Our Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) system was originated in good faith after the chaos of the 90s to ensure as wide a representation of political parties and political viewpoints in parliament as possible.
However, in my very humble opinion the system has served its purpose. It must now be ditched. It has now tended to create more problems than solutions. Talk of the doctrine of unintended consequences.
Because of the MMPR system, every Khotso, Keke and Keketso, who can master a few votes in their derelict village now lay claim to a proportional representation (PR) seat. This has created the untenable situation wherein leaders of political parties without any firm support nor philosophies slither their way into Cabinet. The result has been unwieldly coalitions not based on principles, values and policies but on political marriages of convenience.
The biggest problem is with the manner in which the PR seats are allocated wherein a party that has won most constituencies in the 80 contested seats is penalized by being given fewer of the 40 PR seats to compensate for those who would have performed dismally in the constituencies. Now tell me, what kind of an electoral system seeks to rescue and compensate losers? If you lose, you lose and you should get lost. That is not the case here. These compensatory seats are responsible for converting politics in Lesotho into a business segment. The consequences have of course been tragic.
We can never have a coherent government of a single political party or even two parties elected on the basis of good policies because the current system makes it virtually impossible for any one party to win a governing majority. It would have been better if the PR seats where allocated on the basis of the overall votes obtained in an election so that a party that wins more votes gets more PR seats rather than vice versa.
While the British first past the post system , on which our electoral system was originally entirely based, is not ideal, I would have hoped that the National Reforms Authority (NRA) would have devised a better alternative in which it becomes possible to produce a coherent government and close the doors for the current conveyer belt opportunism benefiting every Khotso, Keke and Keketso.
But alas, the NRA is now hell bent on promoting another cloud cuckoo land electoral system. Surely not again.
The elections in constituencies are the central thesis of democracy. Here, constituency representatives are elected directly by the electorate and must be accountable to those who have elected them. Tragically in Lesotho, once elected, these MPs are allowed to become prostitutes or rather crosstitutes. They can jump from one party to another – to entrench their personal interests – without the mandate of their electors in the constituencies. That is a monumental injustice. The current floor crossing system is defective. The NRA would have been better of proposing the elimination of this practice of prostitution (crosstituion) and ensure that MPs cannot defect without facing the electorate again. I would also have hoped that the NRA would ensure an overhaul of the electoral system and consolidation of the 80 contested parliamentary seats to ensure PR votes are distributed in a way that avoids punishing winners in constituencies and rewarding losers. Tragically this is not the case.
The NRA wants the constituency seats – which represent direct democracy – slashed from 80 to 60 seats to increase the quota (PR seats) to 60. They (NRA) claim this is what most Basotho who partook in the plenary consultations they are coordinating want. I don’t believe it. The NRA are lying. Which mad Basotho would want an increase in the quota seats?
Reducing the constituency seats would not have been a problem if the story ended there. Who wouldn’t want a smaller parliament of hopefully serious players? Instead, the NRA want to reduce the contested seats to increase the dubious PR seats from 40 to 60 and keep the number of MPs in the National Assembly at the current 120 by creating more backdoor opportunities. That is wholly untenable? What do we achieve by increasing these back door seats? Nothing.
I could not believe my eyes when I listened to NRA boss Pelele Letsoela unveil this dubious proposal at a press conference in Maseru this week. Whatever those who have come up with this proposal are smoking must be undeniably intoxicating.
The rationale of increasing the number of PR seats is ostensibly to accommodate more women and disabled people and other unmentioned special interest groups.
Now hang on a minute. Who says Lesotho needs more women representation to attain the much elusive economic and political prosperity? Who says Lesotho needs more one eyed or one legged people in Parliament to achieve the hitherto elusive economic and political prosperity? What stops anyone without one or both eyes or with one hand from contesting elections in the constituencies? Who says we need more large, farting women in parliament to get on to a new road to Damascus?
Who else will fill this huge quota of 60 backdoor seats? Will we have a quota for nyatsis or the crocodiles who loiter at the junction near the now defunct Victoria Hotel in these 60? Will the 60 include a quota for herdboys, as a special interest group? What will stop shebeen owners from demanding their quota of the 60 seats? Or the cabbage vendors?
The fact is we don’t need more PR seats. What we need are direct elections of representatives elected in constituencies on the strength of their policies and principles. Even though a first-past -the-post system only is not ideal, I would not mind if the story ended there. Imagine a parliament with only 60 hardworking MPs elected in bruising elections and who are not allowed to crosstitute? Imagine a parliament with only 60 MPs who spend their time on real work and not fighting for measly M5000 fuel allowances? Part of the problem with the current parliament of 120 is that it is too unwieldy for a small country of only two million inhabitants. Most of the MPs have nothing to do.
Let the NRA propose confining parliament to 60 elected MPs only and then establish stringent criteria of who qualifies to contest elections. One criteria could be confining parliamentary candidates to people who have established and run successful businesses – including car washes – and earned at least one million maloti in their bank accounts. Just imagine how many chancers would be disqualified. Such criteria would ensure that only hardworking people- who have already earned their keep – would go to Parliament. Once there, they can focus on real business because they already have the means and not fighting for pitiful M5000 allowances. Unless we stop politics being seen as a business by the ever proliferating professional politicians in Lesotho, then we are doomed. Instead of achieving that objective, the NRA wants more quotas to create more opportunities for chancers. How is that going to help this country develop?
There are many talented disabled people out there. Who said they need a special quota in parliament? After all, many in the current crop of MPs are already disabled insofar as they are mentally deranged. Just consider the cases of Charlatan Phori, Mapesela and even Machesetsa. So why create a quota to have more of these deranged characters? In any event, nothing has stopped them from contesting elections? That is why they are in parliament in the first place? So why increase the quota to have more of them in parliament. Have those pushing this warped proposal considered its ramifications? Have they considered the effects of having more brainless people in parliament under the guise of quotas for the disabled and special interest groups? Me thinks not.
And why are we so patronizing towards disabled people. Why do we always think they require freebies? There are many disabled people who are successful through sheer hard work. They can contest elections and win without the need for quotas. Let everyone who wants to be in parliament contest seats based on their political and economic intellect.
I don’t mind if the entire parliament ends up with people with split foreheads and no legs. I don’t mind if the entire parliament ends up with 120 large buttocked women. As long as they contest elections on merit and are elected based on their policy articulations, so be it. What I am totally opposed to are any form of quotas for free rides into Parliament. It goes without saying – from past experiences – that such free riders tend to be dunderheads. Once in parliament, they serve the sole purpose of warming and farting on those benches. We have already had enough of that.
Mr Letsoela told the nation at his press conference; “If we have 60 first-past-the-post seats and 60 PR seats, we will finally be able to achieve the 30 percent women representation in parliament”.
My question to him is, so what? What are the benefits of having a 30 percent quota of women in parliament? What have the other countries who have abided by such a quota achieved? How are these women going to be selected? Will they be required to be slim, medium built or fat? Will flight attendants be required? Yes we need women in Parliament. But we don’t need a quota for them. Let any woman who think they fit the political bill emerge and contest elections. They must win on merit and not slither into Parliament via a patronizing quota system.
The current multi-sector reforms process is our last chance to build a viable democracy based on merit. What Lesotho needs, and needs badly is a meritocracy where people rise to positions of influence in the government, in the judiciary and in the security agencies on merit. That’s a meritocracy. The last thing we need is people seeking a role in politics as the easiest way to earn a living.
We have a chance to change our lost ways. The NRA has the perfect chance to ensure we do things differently. It all starts with an electoral system that ensures that we elect worthwhile human beings as our political leaders in parliament based on merit and not quotas. It’s either that or we remain a Middle Ages country.