Five new political parties enter the fray

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Mohalenyane Phakela

FIVE new political will today be issued with registration certificates by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

This means that come 2022, Lesotho will have a staggering 46 political parties competing for the votes from an electorate numbering a paltry 1 240 537, according to the last population census conducted in 2016.

IEC spokesperson, Tuoe Hantsi, confirmed the impending registration of the five new parties in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

He however, refused to reveal the identities of the parties, saying all will be revealed at the official handover of the parties’ registration certificates today at the IEC offices in Maseru.

He said the parties had met the registration requirements which included having at least 500 paid up members and being registered under the Societies Act, 1966.

“The five new parties will tomorrow (today) be issued with their certificates at the IEC warehouse in Maseru,” Mr Hantsi said.

“This will bring the total number of parties certified to contest in next year’s elections to 46. The duty of the IEC is to register qualifying parties and the more the parties registered, the more the Commission is fulfilling its mandate of ensuring democracy.”

IEC officials have said another nine parties were waiting in the wings. If these are registered, this would bring the total number of parties to 55.

Back in June this year, IEC Commissioner Tšoeu Petlane said if the trend continues, it would not be a surprise if Lesotho would be having at least 100 political parties by the time the 2022 elections are held.

“Looking at the rate at which political parties are registering, there is a possibility that we could be having 100 parties by the time of the 2022 elections,” Commissioner Petlane said.

“We should be asking ourselves what’s causing this (proliferation of parties).

“Maybe democracy is at work.  It could mean that freedom of association and expression are at play and there is room for everyone to participate. If so, that’s a good thing. However, it could also mean that there is political intolerance among politicians and anyone can form their own party whenever they fall out with others in their previous parties.

“This could also mean that we have derailed and lost our way. We really need to look into what each party brings to the table,” Commissioner Petlane added.

He also said the mushrooming of parties meant the reduction of money each of them would receive from the IEC to help fund their operations.

On the face of it, the proliferation of parties may suggest democracy is alive and thriving in Lesotho.

But analysts are sceptical of the numerous parties’ capacity to make any meaningful political contributions to address the socio-economic plight of long-suffering citizens of this country.

If anything, analysts say the mushrooming of the parties is simply a manifestation of the self-seeking phenomenon of individuals who enter into politics for personal enrichment. They say 46 political parties is too big for a country of Lesotho’s size and economy.

To put the matter into perspective, Lesotho has only 2, 1 million people, a population much smaller than that of South Africa’s commercial hub city of Johannesburg. According to the latest World Bank estimates, Lesotho’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) is only US$2, 7 billion (about M40 billion) and the majority of Basotho survive on less than US$1 per day.

Far bigger countries with more prosperous economies like the United States of America (US) which has 328.2 million people and GDP of well over US$20, 54 trillion have had only two political parties for centuries. Since 1852, the US political system has revolved around the Democrats and the Republicans.

Similarly, the United Kingdom’s political landscape has been dominated by the Conservative and the Labour parties for several decades with the Liberal Democrats playing a fringe role. There is therefore no reason why poor Lesotho should have so many political parties, the analysts say.

If anything, the government should enact tougher new laws to stop the mushrooming of political parties, the analysts say.

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