Back to negotiating a coalition govt

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By Sofonea Shale

THE 2015 National Assembly Elections have come and gone but what remains is the challenge of dealing with the effects. Speculation on which coalition government will lead Lesotho and who, between the two former occupants of State House returns, has now been cleared. The DC-LCD alliance seems to have mustered support from the LPC, BCP, NIP and MFP thus giving it an adequate majority to form government. However what remains is a list of questions; how long will it last, how effective will it be, how different will it be in terms of dealing with the challenges of a similar nature with that of the previous? These issues need to be addressed but off course not in a single article. While they will all be discussed in this and other articles, for now, the question is “what lessons have been learnt previously to inform negotiation of the coalition government?”

A coalition can be defined as a group of organisations that come together for the purpose of gaining more influence and power than the individual organisations can achieve on its own. In fact it is an attempt to get the necessary fifty-plus majority without which one cannot legitimately hold power. In simple terms, this and previous coalitions were necessitated by inadequacy. There are also different forms of coalitions predominantly determined by the purpose for which they have been formed, some are ideology based, others benefit defined or circumstantial goals. This coalition is made up of political parties that have, at one point, been together in a single organisation but have split and proliferated into various pieces.  Several attempts to reconcile have not been successful but it would seem that for the purposes of attaining the necessary majority to lead government, working together is an option.  Though the congress parties have on their own numbers that reach the government threshold, the nationalist minority gives them the extra seats in a majority that remains slim anyway.  The Popular Front for Democracy support to the government with its two seats will give government a working slim majority with MFP also joining the ranks. It would seem that that the All Basotho Convention with its ally the Basotho National Party will remain in opposition with the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL). However, it may not be a game-down for the DC which is also known for its ability to dislodge opposition.

Negotiating for a coalition government may seem simple but there are a few issues which need to be looked at. The critical issues to look at for the working coalition are; building a coalition, maintaining a coalition, making a coalition relevant to the contemporary issues and making a coalition accessible. In building the coalition, first and foremost is the declaration and honesty on the reasons for coming together. Are these parties coming together because they are parties of congress origin and if so what that does that exactly mean or are they coming together for a specifically-defined benefit or are they brought together by the circumstances?

Even if leaders may want to hide this from the people, it would be helpful to be open about it in their ranks. In order to come to an agreement, the parties should have negotiating teams that engage one another. In fact the parties should be able to negotiate their interests.  Parties should ensure that they talk about and conclude on all issues raised.  This means that they should adopt an “all or nothing” negotiating strategy where “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

This means that parties should not rush to agreements while they still have outstanding issues. They should be able to deliberate and agree or disagree on all the issues raised before cutting a deal.  It would be a recipe for disaster to say parties should go ahead with signing an agreement while one or a number of issues would be addressed later. Let the parties agree first or disagree on everything before signing. Then what is agreed should be widely shared and popularised among the organisations involved and the populace. In order to maintain the coalition, there must be a clearly defined and constant communication strategy at all levels of party leadership and structures. There should be engagement and policy deliberation platforms serving as policy harmonisation. This will reduce the burden of dealing with conflicting policy issues in the cabinet. Like it has been said, it is a known fact that these parties came into being because of unresolved conflicts. It is therefore logical to believe that there shall be inter-party as well as intraparty conflict. It is, therefore, a necessity to have a defined conflict management framework. There is absolutely no way through which coalition leadership and leadership style (identifiable, recognisable and decisive leadership) can only be alienated at the peril of coalition. The recognised, open and democratically conducted structures should be enabled to take decisions not informal and unaccountable formations.

The coalition should have a strategic direction and regular reviews. The coalition government should be relevant to the contemporary needs of the people it serves.  It would be necessary for the coalition government to ensure public participation avenues where people’s voices are well channeled and directed to influence decision-making processes.  This means that government should not be seen as a preserve for the favoured, the learned and the opportunists. Another important ingredient would be openness of the coalition to the views not originating from inside its ranks.

The retrogressive tendency that politicians have is that nothing constructive comes from outside their ranks. Civil society organisations for example represent a formidable force for policy advise and direction but it is the sector that is normally viewed negatively by politicians who despise dialogue. Unless those who have power believe and understand that having a good idea about one’s country does not have to be bound by naïve partisan political inclinations, this country will stagnate. Kicks backs and rewards for the campaign stalwarts should not hamper the government objectivity, vigilance and direction.

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