Floor crossing negates democracy and must be banned – analysts

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Staff Reporters

LESGISLATORS Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area constituency) and Mothepu Mahapa (Tele) have again jumped ship, this time ditching the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) for Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s Democratic Congress (DC).

Were it not for the destabilising effects on government stability and service delivery to the long-suffering nation, analysts say Messrs Tsatsanyane, Mahapa and others’ habitual floor crossing antics would be a benign source of bar jokes about selfish politicians who jump to which ever party appears to be in the ascendancy.

Satirists like the Lesotho Times’ popular Scrutator columnist would come up with all kinds of epithets like “serial political flip-floppers” or “habitual political turncoats” to describe Messrs Tsatsanyane, Mahapa and their ilk.

By joining the DC, Mr Tsatsanyane has become a political bed-hopper as he had only been an AD member for less than 10 months. He had dumped the All Basotho Convention (ABC) for the AD last June on the grounds that the ABC had failed to protect its leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, “Maesaiah, from being prosecuted for the 14 June 2017 murder of Mr Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo.

Changing political parties as one changes undergarments appears to be one big joke to Mr Tsatsanyane. He told dozens of DC supporters who gathered at the old state house to welcome him last week that his floor-crossing was “an occasion for rejoicing for others and a day to grieve for others”.

His counterpart, Mr Mahapa is the modern-day prodigal son as he has now retraced his steps back to the DC. He was poached from the then opposition DC along with Tlohelang Aumane (Semena constituency) by the then governing AD which offered them the posts of Deputy Minister of Education and Training as well as Minister of Development Planning respectively in the previous Thabane-led government.

As the beneficiaries, DC leader Mokhothu and secretary general Tšitso Cheba are both elated by the duo’s defections which they describe as “a giant step towards strengthening the DC’s representation in the National Assembly”.

But Messrs Mokhothu, Cheba and the entire DC family must not get excited or read too much into the legislators’ decision to join them, analysts have warned. What if they decide to hop again to another party in the not too distant future as has become characteristic of them?

Their behaviour, the analysts say, is reason enough for the constitutional reforms to be expedited to ban floor-crossing. It is a practice which deprives the electorate of its constitutional right to be represented by a party of their choice, the analysts say.

The constitutional reforms are part of the multi-sector reforms which were recommended by SADC in 2016 to ensure lasting peace and stability in the country.

Political analyst and youth activist, Motsamai Mokotjo, said the implementation of the reforms, which the government has said will be done by September 2021, should be speeded up to outlaw the floor-crossing tendencies of the likes of Messrs Tsatsanyane and Mahapa.

“When the reform process started,  consultations were made and most people were adamant that there should be a by-election in a constituency whenever a member of parliament crosses the floor to join another party,” Mr Mokotjo said, adding, “there is a need to fast track the implementation of the reforms so that this issue of floor-crossing can be stopped”.

Another analyst, Sello Sello, concurred saying Lesotho should follow the example of South Africa and other progressive countries in banning floor-crossing “to protect the democratic rights of voters to representation by a part of their choice.

“Floor-crossing is a twin evil in that it deprives a party a parliamentary seat when it had invested in a particular individual to contest an election on its behalf. It also deprives the voters a say over who should represent them as these MPs just cross the floor without consulting the same voters who elected them in the first place. The floor-crossers only act out of personal considerations.

“No wonder (South African politician) Mangosuthu Buthelezi coined the unflattering epithet “crosstitutes” to describe MPs who suddenly cross the floor to join rival parties in parliament.

“The former Inkatha Freedom Party leader had correctly observed that such legislators are no different from the immoral prostitutes who have to qualms in selling themselves to the highest political suitor who seduces them with promises of cabinet or other powerful posts,” Mr Sello added.

Mr Buthelezi coined the “crosstitutes” epithet during the 1990s when the South African constitution still allowed MPs to cross the floor without losing their seats. His Inkatha and other opposition parties often suffered after elections as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) habitually enticed some of their MPs to cross over to it in exchange for posts in government and financial rewards.

Floor crossing in South Africa was eventually banned through a constitutional amendment which came into effect on 9 January 2009.

But here in Lesotho, the phenomenon remains a major problem and the source of government instability.

Local analyst and academic Siphiwo Mseti is also opposed to floor crossing. He also penned an article, “Floor-crossing a bane for democracy”. In that article he argues that unless Lesotho amends the constitution to outlaw floor crossing, the practice will destabilise governments.

“South Africa has passed legislation outlawing floor-crossing.   MPs can no longer hold onto their seats if they leave the party on whose ticket they came into parliament,” Mr Mseti wrote.

“Lesotho should follow South Africa and outlaw floor crossing as it threatens the existence and stability of political parties whose members are poached by other parties,” he said in a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times.

Fellow analysts, Khabele Matlosa and Victor Shale, also penned an article on the impact of floor-crossing in Lesotho.

“While floor crossing or political migration in and of itself is not necessarily undesirable in a democracy, if not well managed it accentuates the proliferation of parties – a trend that may have adverse effects upon already fragmented party systems and fledgling representative democracies, such as that prevailing in Lesotho.

“Floor crossing (political migration) in Lesotho, although permissible constitutionally, undermines the country’s representative parliamentary democracy.

“Floor crossing (political migration) in Lesotho is also a clear manifestation of the country’s fragmented party system, which is not sufficiently robust for the institutionalisation of democracy. Floor crossing has therefore reinforced the fragility of Lesotho’s democracy since that country’s historic political transition of 1993.

“Given that floor crossing (political migration) is a feature of the constituency based electoral system that Lesotho inherited from the British in 1966, it was assumed that this problem would be redressed with the reform of the electoral model towards more proportionality and the adoption of the mixed member proportional (MMP) system; however, recent developments suggest that this is not the case. In fact, Lesotho’s current political crisis is marked more by fragmentation of the party system, which directly and indirectly destabilises parliament and other spheres of the governance realm,” Messrs Matlosa and Shale state in their article titled “The Impact of Floor Crossing on Party Systems and Representative Democracy: The case of Lesotho”.

Political scientist and former NUL lecturer, Kopano Makoa, said floor-crossing should be banned because it destabilised governments instead of brining stability after a period of turmoil.

“Floor-crossing is not good for any country as it not only erodes development but also allows a party to have parliamentary seats even where it had been rejected by voters. The constitution must be amended to provide for by-elections whenever people defect to allow people to choose the party they want to represent them,” he said.

His sentiments reflect the findings of the Afrobarometer research institute which last year revealed that most Basotho now preferred monarchical rule to parliamentary democracy.

“Key findings of the latest survey are that 66 percent of Basotho say elections and parliament should be abolished so that the King can govern the country,” Afrobarometer stated in its July 2020 report.

Even Zimbabwe which is not a paragon of democracy acknowledges that floor crossing is unfair on the electorate and therefore does not allow the practice.  A parliamentary seat becomes vacant the minute a legislator either ditches or is fired by the party which elected him and by-elections are held.

As long as floor-crossing is allowed in Lesotho, there will always be political instability as MPs jump ship to join whoever dangles the biggest carrot of cabinet and other well-paying posts in government.

More instability is currently at play with a number of ABC MPs expected to defect to the recently launched Basotho Action Party (BAP) to mount a bid to unseat Moeketsi Majoro as prime minister. All this happens at the expense of focus on governance and service delivery.  And the ordinary people are always the biggest losers.

 

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